A pro-science approach to Yucca Mountain appropriations

A pro-science approach to Yucca Mountain appropriations
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Congress is hammering out a fifth budget deal in as many months. Whatever deal moves forward, Congress must not pass up another opportunity to fund the completion of the permit review process for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain

Congress hasn’t appropriated funds for the Yucca Mountain program since 2010. Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBarr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks Harry Reid warns Trump 'can be reelected' Homeland Security Republican accuses Navy of withholding UFO info MORE of (D-Nev.) made a career of killing the project and found a ready ally in the Obama administration. Without any scientific reasoning, the administration declared that Yucca Mountain was “not a workable option” and did its best to dismantle the program, before courts intervened.

At the time, Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Top House GOP appropriations staffer moves to lobbying shop Individuals with significant disabilities need hope and action MORE (R-N.J.), now chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, called the Obama administration out on its anti-science stance: “Over the years, this Committee, in a bipartisan fashion, has been at the forefront of criticizing this administration’s disdain for sound science and the hard-earned tax dollars of our constituents.”

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Now that Congress finds an engaged counterpart in the Trump administration, it’s time they defend the scientific process, address the viability of Yucca Mountain head on, and let contentions with the Department of Energy’s permit application for Yucca Mountain be heard by appropriating the funds to do so. A major part of what remains in that process is for public hearings to adjudicate nearly 300 contentions with the project.

 

In other venues and on different issues, Democrats and Republicans have advocated for a pro-science approach to policymaking. They should apply this to funding the completion of the review of Yucca Mountain.

Science is a powerful tool in making policy decisions. As House Minority Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPatagonia says to shut stores for a few hours during Global Climate Strike Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Progressives push for changes to Pelosi drug pricing plan MORE (D-Calif.) has said: “If we had four words to describe … our domestic agenda, for our national agenda, it would be science, science, science, and science. Science.” Ranking member of the House Committee on Appropriations, Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHouse votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November The Hill's Morning Report - Pompeo condemns Iran for 'act of war' while Trump moves with caution Two years after Maria, Puerto Rico awaits disaster funds MORE (D-N.Y.), has also said that “Scientific evidence and advice [are] critical for helping lawmakers to make decisions on a wide range of issues.”

Rather than ignore science by freezing out the process through lack of appropriations, Congress should embrace what Pelosi and Lowey have said and let the science of the Yucca Mountain application be adjudicated.

Part of the process Congress designed for Yucca Mountain was to allow citizens’ voices to be heard. Failure to fund this process is a failure to give those opinions a formal hearing. As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBiden has a lot at stake in first debate The Hill's Morning Report — Trump turns the page back to Mueller probe Trump praises Thad Cochran: 'A real senator with incredible values' MORE (R-Miss.), has said before regarding another issue: “I encourage citizens to carefully review this proposal and weigh in … to ensure that regulations like this one are based on sound science, consider economic impacts, and demonstrate common sense.”

The debate over Yucca Mountain has suffered from inflammatory language that isn’t based in concrete information and does not serve to advance the debate, such as using “nuclear waste dump” to describe a massive engineering feat to permanently store nuclear waste. Members should do as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyAmerica's newest comedy troupe: House GOP Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices Modernize Congress to make it work for the people MORE (R-Calif.) has said: “Sometimes people create regulation based on fear, not data and science. I am just asking that it be based on just that — data and science.”

Completing the Yucca Mountain licensing process does not commit Congress to building the facility. It merely empowers Congress, the administration, and industry to make informed decisions about how to proceed. They can move on if — after all the facts have been put on the table — the permit application cannot withstand the scrutiny of those roughly 300 contentions. 

Congress has no excuses left. In describing another process that took far too long, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPatagonia says to shut stores for a few hours during Global Climate Strike Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes On The Money: House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November | Judge blocks California law requiring Trump tax returns | Senate panel approves three spending bills MORE (R-Ky.) said of the Keystone XL Pipeline review in 2015, “There’s no reason for the president to ignore that science any longer.” Neither should Congress.

Unlike the Keystone XL Pipeline project under President Obama, Congress doesn’t face a dead end at the White House in funding the remaining licensing review process for Yucca Mountain. The president’s budget last spring included funding for the Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue their review.

If Congress again refuses to fund the licensing process for Yucca Mountain, it smacks of the anti-science stance both parties have decried.

As Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts Senate panel approves three spending bills MORE (D-Vt.), has critiqued President TrumpDonald John TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it MORE’s budget request: “The bigger picture in all of this right now is the deeply troubling anti-science agenda that is reflected in the administration’s budget … week by week, through this spread of anti-science know-nothingism, we’re in danger of taking great leaps backward from our hard-won scientific leadership.” 

Congress shouldn’t be afraid of more information. Rather than closing their ears and shutting out the permit review, it’s time Congress defend the scientific process and let contentions with the Yucca Mountain permit be heard.

Katie Tubb is a policy analyst in the Institute for Economic Freedom at The Heritage Foundation.