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 ShimkusOvernight Energy: Fight over fuel standards intensifies | Democrats grill Trump officials over rule rollback | California official blasts EPA chief over broken talks | Former EPA official says Wheeler lied to Congress California official blasts EPA head over car standard negotiations Democrats grill Trump officials over fuel standard rollback 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 WaldenOvernight Energy: EPA expands use of pesticide it considers 'highly toxic' to bees | House passes defense bill with measure targeting 'forever chemicals' | Five things to watch as Barry barrels through the Gulf House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker 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 TonkoOvernight Energy: EPA expands use of pesticide it considers 'highly toxic' to bees | House passes defense bill with measure targeting 'forever chemicals' | Five things to watch as Barry barrels through the Gulf House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' Scientific integrity is crumbling under Trump 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 KihuenMembers spar over sexual harassment training deadline Nevada Dem sanctioned for sexual misconduct announces city council bid Dem gains put Sunbelt in play for 2020 MORE (D-Nev.).

Rep. Dina TitusAlice (Dina) Costandina TitusKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Acting FAA chief defends agency's Boeing 737 Max safety certification Dems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle 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 HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R-Nev.), who opposes Yucca, is facing a tough reelection fight this year.

Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerrySenior Trump administration official to leave post next week Overnight Energy: Trump doesn't mention climate change in speech touting environmental policies | Green groups fight EPA's new FOIA rule | Trump emissions rollback hit with legal challenge Trump touts environmental policies, but says nothing of climate change 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.