Energy & Environment

Senate advances deputy energy secretary nominee

A Senate committee on Tuesday advanced the nomination of President Trump’s pick for the second-in-command role at the Energy Department. 

Mark Menezes’s nomination to be deputy energy secretary received opposition from just one senator on the chamber’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), over the Trump administration’s reported consideration of nuclear testing. 

The Washington Post reported last month that administration officials discussed the possibility of such testing during a May 15 meeting with senior officials. 

This would be the first time the U.S. has conducted a nuclear test since 1992. In the 20th century, some U.S. nuclear tests were conducted at a site in Nevada, Cortez Masto’s home state. 

“Reports are suggesting that this Administration is prepared to jeopardize the health and safety of Nevadans, undercut our nation’s nuclear nonproliferation goals, and further weaken strategic partnerships with our global allies just to flex its muscles on the global stage,” Cortez Masto said in a statement submitted to the congressional record. 

“I look forward to receiving assurances that Nevada will not be used, once again, for explosive nuclear testing,” she added. 

The senator also referenced tests that took place at the Nevada National Security Site between 1945 and 1992. 

“Each one of those tests made a lasting mark on Nevada, surrounding states, test site workers, and individuals downwind from the blasts,” her statement said.

National Nuclear Security Administration spokeswoman Ana Gamonal de Navarro told The Hill in an email that the agency “continues to observe the 1992 nuclear test moratorium.”

“Since then, the United States has certified the deployed nuclear stockpile annually without nuclear explosive testing…and has found no issues that require us to resume underground testing,” she said. “NNSA maintains the readiness to conduct an underground nuclear test within 24 to 36 months, if required, to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the Nation’s stockpile.”

Following the voice vote on Tuesday, Menezes will have to be approved by the full Senate. 

Since 2017, he has served as under secretary of energy and has advised the department on policy and technology. Before that, he worked as an executive with Berkshire Hathaway Energy and has also lobbied for several energy companies. 

Cortez Masto’s comments are not the first time Nevada nuclear issues have come up in recent months. 

Earlier this year, President Trump reversed his stance on storing nuclear waste in the state’s Yucca Mountain, and for the first time did not seek funding for storing waste at the controversial repository in his annual budget proposal. 

“Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you! Congress and previous Administrations have long failed to find lasting solutions – my Administration is committed to exploring innovative approaches – I’m confident we can get it done!” he tweeted in February.

— Updated on June 10 at 11:58 a.m.

Tags Berkshire Hathaway Energy Catherine Cortez Masto Donald Trump Energy Department Mark Menezes nuclear testing Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee The Washington Post Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository
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