Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has called on Energy Secretary Rick Perry to provide details on how the White House would spend funds requested for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, as well as how money has been spent since President Donald Trump was elected.
In a letter to Perry dated Monday, Cortez Masto, an opponent of the controversial project, noted that while the president has requested $120 million in both of his fiscal year (FY) 2018 and 2019 budget blueprints, with regard to the Department of Energy (DOE), neither of the budget documents provides a detailed account of how funding will be, or has been, spent.
“The FY 2019 Budget Justification, like the FY 2018 Budget Justification, provides little meaningful information on how DOE would actually spend these funds to participate in U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing activities for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository,” the letter said. “Moreover, neither of these budget documents provide any information on DOE expenditures from the Nuclear Waste Fund for Yucca Mountain activities during FY 2017 and FY2018.”
Cortez Masto wants Perry to disclose what the unobligated balances were in DOE’s Defense Nuclear Waste Disposal and Nuclear Waste Disposal accounts at the beginning of FY 2017, which started on Oct. 1, 2016, as well as for FY 2018.
She also wants to know how much was spent from these accounts during FY 2017 and 2018 for Yucca licensing activities; pension fund and related obligations for retired Yucca Mountain workers; administration of the Nuclear Waste Fund, financial audits; investment guidance; maintenance of records and technical and scientific information, including preservation and security of geologic samples.
Cortez Masto also asked how much was spent on licensing between FY 2007 and FY2011, when the Barack Obama administration intervened to halt the process. She further requested an estimate for how much it would cost to complete “all activities associated with licensing the Yucca Mountain repository.”
Her letter comes after representatives from Nye County met alone with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission earlier in March. Yucca Mountain is in Nye County and county officials—including Dan Schinhofen, vice-chairman of the Board of Nye County Commissioners—have been vocal supporters of the project.
The meeting raised concerns of possible foul play from Yucca opponents such as Rep. Dina Titus and Rep. Ruben Kihuen.
“You can’t let them get away with that kind of stuff, secret meetings,” she said. “They know themselves, that’s against the rules.”
Cortez Masto’s letter comes after Sen. Dean Heller last week underscored his pledge to prevent federal funds from going to build the Yucca Mountain project at a hearing convened by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Heller told Energy Secretary Rick Perry that just like the last fiscal year, despite requesting $120 million for Yucca in the White House budget, no funds were provided by Congress. “That language will also be removed” in the 2019 federal budget, he said.
His comments came as Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican and Titus, a Democrat, said they believe that Heller’s tough re-election could help Yucca from being considered by the Senate.
“I don’t think, when you’ve got a Nevada Senate seat in a tight race, that the Senate is going to be doing Yucca because if [McConnell] thought he had the votes to kill it, then I would assume they would schedule it and let Sen. Heller be a hero,” said Amodei, who believes the government should continue to study the Yucca project.
Heller faces a difficult re-election effort in a state that Trump lost and where Democrats outnumber Republicans in voter registration. He got some relief, which may help him win over moderates, when Trump on Friday persuaded Heller GOP primary opponent, conservative Danny Tarkanian, to drop out of the Senate race and jump into the race for the 3rd Congressional District.