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 ReidKavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow Dems can’t ‘Bork’ Kavanaugh, and have only themselves to blame Dem senator: Confidential documents would 'strongly bolster' argument against Kavanaugh's nomination 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 FrelinghuysenOn The Money: Lawmakers get deal to avoid shutdown | House panel approves 'tax cuts 2.0' bill | Jobless claims hold steady near 49-year low Congress sends first spending package to Trump in push to avert shutdown Congress reaches deal to fund government through Dec. 7, preventing shutdown 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi calls on Ryan to bring long-term Violence Against Women Act to floor Dems' confidence swells with midterms fast approaching GOP: The economy will shield us from blue wave 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 LoweyCongress sends first spending package to Trump in push to avert shutdown The stakes are sky-high for the pro-life cause in the upcoming midterms Dems urge Mattis to reject using 0M for border wall 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 CochranGOP Senate candidate to African Americans: Stop begging for 'government scraps' Trump endorses Hyde-Smith in Mississippi Senate race GOP Senate candidate doubles down on Robert E. Lee despite Twitter poll 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 McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil GOP: The economy will shield us from blue wave Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker 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 McConnellMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify McConnell rips Democrats for handling of Kavanaugh nomination Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow 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 LeahySenate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents Dems engage in last-ditch effort to block Kavanaugh Democrats should end their hypocrisy when it comes to Kavanaugh and the judiciary MORE (D-Vt.), has critiqued President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president 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.