House votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project

House votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project
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The House passed a bill Thursday that seeks to move forward a process toward building the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada that would store the nation’s radioactive nuclear waste.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, sponsored by Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusHouse lawmakers look to reassure Australia after Mattis resignation On The Money: Latest on shutdown risk | Trump digs in on wall funding | House GOP looks to move .7B for border wall | GOP senators stunned | Stocks plunge amid Washington chaos GOP scrambles to prevent shutdown after right-wing insurrection MORE (R-Ill.), passed by an overwhelming bipartisan margin of 340-72.

It would set a path forward for the Department of Energy (DOE) to resume the process of planning for and building the southern Nevada site, transfer land to the DOE for it, ease the federal funding mechanism and allow DOE to build or license a temporary site to store waste while the Yucca project is being planned and built.

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“The bill we’re considering today reinforces a promise that the United States Congress, on behalf of the entire federal government, made to our constituents a generation ago. Today, we’re keeping that promise,” Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval House Republicans question mobile carriers on data practices On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown MORE (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said on the House floor.

“We will accept responsibility for, and properly dispose of, radioactive waste. This is long overdue.”

The bill received widespread support. Many lawmakers justified their votes by arguing that spent nuclear fuel stored at operating or closed power plants in their districts ought to instead be at a centrally-located facility designed for long-term storage.

“Regardless of your position on nuclear energy, we have to acknowledge the reality that tens of thousands of tons of waste already exist,” said Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoThe new Democratic Congress has an opportunity to move legislation to help horses The Year Ahead: Dems under pressure to deliver on green agenda Progressives say dire climate reports point to need for ‘Green New Deal’ MORE (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment.

“This is a problem for over 120 host communities across our country, and it will not be solved by continuing to ignore it.”

Yucca Mountain has long been controversial, particularly in Nevada.

Congress first passed a law in 1982 to establish a federal nuclear site to store the nation’s waste from nuclear weapons development, nuclear power and other uses, and tasked the DOE to find a location. But in 1987, Congress mandated that the Yucca site be the only option.

Since then, Nevada leaders and most of its residents and businesses have fought the project, though the counties closest to the site support it and see it as an economic opportunity.

The Obama administration cut off the licensing process in 2010, arguing that nuclear waste should be stored in a state that wants it there.

The Trump administration has asked for funding to restart the process, but so far, Congress has not granted the money.

Nevada lawmakers mounted strong opposition to the bill before it passed Thursday.

“If you generate nuclear waste, you should keep it in your own backyard. Don’t be sending it to our backyard,” said Rep. Ruben KihuenRuben Jesus KihuenNevada Dem sanctioned for sexual misconduct announces city council bid Dem gains put Sunbelt in play for 2020 Pence aide defends Meadows after ethics panel reprimand: He ‘had my back’ MORE (D-Nev.).

Rep. Dina TitusAlice (Dina) Costandina TitusOregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds DOJ announces .7 million in funding to help victims of Las Vegas mass shooting 2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck MORE (D-Nev.) dubbed the bill “Screw Nevada 2.0.” She and other Nevada leaders had labeled the 1987 law the “Screw Nevada Bill.”

“Today we must decide if we’re going to double down on policies that have been an abject failure for the last three decades, or if we’ll chart a new course that doesn’t repeat the same mistakes of previous Congresses,” Titus said.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected — by a 332-80 vote — an amendment proposed by Titus that would have entirely replaced the bill with one to deauthorize Yucca and instruct the DOE to find a state that wants a storage site, a process dubbed “consent-based siting.”

The bill’s future in the Senate is uncertain.

A bipartisan group of senators has previously pushed legislation to help Yucca move forward and establish an interim nuclear waste site.

But Shimkus said this week he doesn’t believe GOP Senate leaders would force a vote on the matter when Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems MORE (R-Nev.), who opposes Yucca, is facing a tough reelection fight this year.

Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryOvernight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Pompeo in Iraq for unannounced visit GOP commissioner on federal energy panel dies MORE has said the government has a "moral obligation" to continue working on the Yucca project. But he declined earlier this week at a hearing to say whether the Trump administration supports the legislation.