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 ShimkusA conservative climate plan will build on personal responsibility while reducing emissions Congress just proved there is hope for honest discussion on climate Dems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants 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 WaldenThe 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration House GOP lawmaker says Green New Deal is like genocide Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — FDA issues proposal to limit sales of flavored e-cigs | Trump health chief gets grilling | Divisions emerge over House drug pricing bills | Dems launch investigation into short-term health plans 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 TonkoDems introduce bill to protect science research from political interference Congress should take action so President Trump can protect horses and the save the U.S. horse racing economy Dems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants 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 TitusDems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds DOJ announces .7 million in funding to help victims of Las Vegas mass shooting 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 suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (R-Nev.), who opposes Yucca, is facing a tough reelection fight this year.

Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryDemocrats have debate delusion that leaves them wildly outfoxed Say no to NOPEC to maintain a stable oil market California governor plays down Trump feud 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.