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D.C. Download: Where Republican presidential candidates stand on Yucca

Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
CongressElection 2024ElectionsGovernment

With nine major Republicans declared to run for president, I looked through their past statements to see what they think of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository — long a political barometer in the Silver State. Plus, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) reacts to the latest Trump indictment, and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) visits Lake Mead to announce new federal funding.

The Republican field on Yucca

When Donald Trump first took office, his personal opinion on the use of Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste seemed unclear. But his Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, made the administration’s position clear — he wanted to proceed with the use of the site, which had been developed in the 1980s but been successfully diverted ever since by Nevada lawmakers.

Trump’s 2017 budget called for Yucca funding, and Perry testified to Congress about its “moral obligation” to provide the funds to bring the site online. Though the House took him up on it, the bill died in the Senate as part of an effort to protect then-Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who was up for re-election the next year. The Nevada delegation beat back multiple subsequent attempts to license the project in 2019.

By 2020, Trump had changed his tune, tweeting, “Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you!”

The Biden administration has also taken no steps to fund the nuclear waste site at the Southern Nevada location.

So while we know where Biden and Trump stand on Yucca — at least for now — the other eight major Republican candidates have yet to weigh in on the topic (or visit Nevada at all, except for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, but that’s a story for another day.)

None of the Republican campaigns responded to inquiries about their candidates’ stances on the nuclear waste storage site. But quite a few have prior statements or voting records on Yucca, which I’ve aggregated below.

Ron DeSantis

During his time in Congress, DeSantis, like all but five House Republicans, voted for the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2018, which would have authorized the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. And he took several votes over his five years in the House to the same effect, voting against amendments stripping Yucca funding from federal budgets.

The Trump campaign has taken note.

“Ron DeSantis Wants to Make Nevada a Nuclear Waste Dumping Ground…And It Gets Worse From There,” read a May statement from team Trump.

Perhaps DeSantis will respond at former Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s Basque Fry next weekend, which he’s slated to headline.

Nikki Haley

As governor of South Carolina in 2015, Nikki Haley had some harsh words for then-President Barack Obama and then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who convinced Obama to drop Yucca plans.

"President Obama and Harry Reid are willing to shut down Yucca and make South Carolina a permanent dumping ground to save Harry Reid's Senate seat.” Haley said at the time. “That’s wrong. We are not interested in investing in any more Nevada real estate when we get nothing in return.” 

Haley spoke out after touring the Savannah River Site, which stores radioactive waste in the western part of South Carolina. She said if the federal government did not intend to open Yucca, it should refund all the money it has poured into studying and developing the site.

Tim Scott

As a member of Congress since 2011, Scott was on the Senate Energy & Natural Resources committee in 2014, when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s report finding that Yucca was a safe storage site came out.

"Despite politically motivated delays to the Yucca Mountain project, it is clearer than ever that this is the safest, most viable location for storing our nation's nuclear waste,” Scott said at the time, in a shot at Reid. “We must have a long-term strategy, as this is not an issue that can be wished away.” 

He added that South Carolina had taken on an outsized burden in the wake of Nevada’s continued objections to Yucca moving forward, and that South Carolina had contributed over a billion toward the project with no result.

Mike Pence

Long before he was vice president, Pence was a member of the House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013, meaning he voted on the initial 2002 approval of the project.

Pence, a staunch conservative, was one of just 13 House Republicans in 2002 to vote against approving the storage site at Yucca Mountain.

In his vice presidential years, he didn’t touch the issue on trips to Nevada either as a campaign surrogate or representative of the Trump administration.

Chris Christie

As governor of New Jersey, Christie called on the U.S. to find a permanent solution for nuclear waste storage in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. And he authorized the state to join a lawsuit with New York, Connecticut and Vermont against the federal government, saying its inability to find a long-term storage option was injurious to states with nuclear power facilities. (The states ended up winning the lawsuit.)

When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission changed the amount of time waste can be stored at individual plants from 30 years to 60 years in 2011, Christie criticized the agency.

"Maintaining that type of material in a shuttered plant for 60 years could be a danger to the safety and welfare of the people of New Jersey," he said. 

But he did not specifically say whether Yucca should become the solution.

Asa Hutchinson

I could not find any comments from the former Arkansas governor on Yucca or nuclear waste.

Doug Burgum

The longshot North Dakota governor joined the Western Governors Association in a 2019 letter saying states deserve greater control over nuclear waste policies that affect them — a popular opinion among Nevada’s congressional delegation.

The letter pertained to the release of a new five-year federal plan for nuclear repository in New Mexico.

“Western Governors request that states be provided with advance notice and significant details about these projects, as they could influence shipment schedules and associated planning efforts in states,” Burgum, as WGA president, wrote.

Vivek Ramaswamy

I could not find any comments from the biotech, “anti-woke” entrepreneur on Yucca or nuclear waste.

Amodei on the federal Trump indictment

Donald Trump became the first former president to be federally indicted Thursday, with the Justice Department bringing seven counts against him in relation to his handling of over 300 classified documents.

The charges against Trump include violating the Espionage Act, making false statements and conspiring to obstruct justice, per the New York Times. The prosecutors also discovered an audio clip from 2021 in which Trump discusses a classified document on military strategies in Iran with aides, acknowledging that he could no longer declassify it as an ex-president and wishing he had done so while in office.

Trump maintained his innocence in a series of posts on Truth Social, calling the indictment politically motivated, raging against special prosecutor Jack Smith’s record, saying Biden was a hypocrite given classified documents were discovered in his home offices, and adding that the U.S. is in “serious and rapid decline.”

Reactions to the indictment on the right have run the gamut, with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) rushing to his defense while others have remained mum, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and several of Trump’s 2024 primary opponents, including Mike Pence and Nikki Haley.

In a statement, Amodei — Nevada’s only Republican in Congress and the chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign in the state — leaned toward the McCarthy view.

“I am deeply suspicious of Donald Trump’s indictment, especially since the Department of Justice is not also indicting President Biden for doing the same thing,” Amodei said. “It is a fact that President Biden kept classified documents for decades. The American people are intelligent and see this ploy for exactly what it is: the weaponization of the federal government against Joe Biden’s leading political opponent.”

A probe into Biden’s handling of classified documents from his time as vice president, as well as one for Pence, who also was found to have classified documents, is still underway. In addition, Trump possessed many more documents than either Biden or Pence, the contents of which are still mostly unknown.

“Our country has multiple significant fundamental issues to deal with presently,” Amodei continued. “This continuing obsession of the political ends justify any means, regardless of the harm to our republic, is a sad commentary on our current state.”

Rosen announces $32 million for Lake Mead boating

Rosen spent her Monday at Lake Mead, announcing $32 million in federal disaster relief funds for recreation aid to the embattled reservoir and discussing the plan for boat ramps heading into the summer.

“When local businesses at Lake Mead reached out to my office with concerns about how boat ramp closures were hurting them, I took action right away to get these ramps reopened and secure the funding needed to keep them open,” Rosen said in a statement.

She said the federal funding, which was appropriated in last December’s omnibus spending bill, will ensure the boat ramps operate this summer. In recent National Park Service plans to address falling water levels at the lake amid the mega-drought, the agency proposed permanent boat launch closures — an action Rosen objected to. Low water levels had led to the suspension of the use of all but one boat ramp.

She submitted a letter in March with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Arizona’s two senators asking for appropriated disaster relief funds to include infrastructure repairs for recreation activities on Lake Mead.

Lake Mead, with water levels reaching historic lows in recent years, experienced a quick rise last month due to an unusually high snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin. But the persistence of the drought keeps the risk level high for the man-made lake.

Bruce Nelson, the director of operations at Lake Mead Marina, said in a statement that Rosen’s advocacy will help companies that have struggled under the weight of drought and subsequent declining tourism.

“She took on this issue by fighting to reopen the boat ramps, saving the small businesses that depend on them,” Nelson said.

2024 Watch

Bill Conrad jumps into Senate race

We have a West Point graduate and military veteran in Nevada’s U.S. Senate race … but it’s not the one you’re thinking of.

While Sam Brown is still mulling a run and former Assemblyman Jim Marchant already announced, retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel Bill Conrad has announced his entry into the Republican primary for Nevada’s Senate seat in 2024. Conrad, who has not yet filed with the Federal Election Commission, also ran in 2022, where he finished fourth among listed Republican candidates with about 1.5 percent of the vote.

“As each day passes without an announcement from Brown, I find my campaign growing stronger. Brown and I share a similar background, both being West Point graduates,” Conrad told me in an email.

Conrad, who lives in Reno and spent 35 years in the military, lists his priorities as cutting taxes, eliminating regulations, shrinking the size of the federal government, promoting strong national security and replacing McConnell as Senate Republicans’ leader with a more conservative member.

In a self-published election guide, Conrad touted his experience as a combat veteran, in business and as a former city councilman in Modesto, California.

He told me he’ll be officially announcing on July 4 in Las Vegas and then begin a statewide tour in October.

“For too long, an elite in a far-distant capital has controlled us through mandates, orders, and administrative directives,” Conrad wrote on his website. “It is time for this to stop and never happen again!”

Americans for Prosperity takes a shot at Rosen

Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-founded libertarian advocacy group, held an event at a Shell station in Las Vegas on Tuesday paying the difference of the cost of gas between the day Biden took office and its current price for 200 drivers — all to make a statement against Democrats’ energy policies.

AFP called on Rosen to pass the Lower Energy Costs Act, a House Republican-backed bill that would roll back environmental protections and promote oil and gas drilling that Senate Democrats are firmly against.

The event is part of an eight-figure campaign in battleground 2024 states, including Nevada, to criticize vulnerable Senate Democrats such as Rosen.

Around the Capitol

  • Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) introduced a bill to make LGBTQ+ rights a factor in State Department policy, which would codify a Biden administration policy. The bill could empower the U.S. to sanction Uganda, for example, for its abuse of LGBTQ+ people.
  • Cortez Masto introduced a bill exempting immigrant children who have faced abandonment, abuse or neglect in their home countries from caps on the immigration visa system. The bill would allow those with Special Immigrant Juvenile Status to not count toward quotas, potentially easing backlogs in visa processing.
  • Cortez Masto and Rosen got a prime spot in the middle of this photo of women senators commemorating the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. They’re part of a Senate that tied the record for most women in the body — 25 out of 100.
  • A telehealth expansion bill for rural communities sponsored by Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) advanced through the House Ways & Means Committee.
  • Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) started a new caucus: the American Canadian Economy and Security Caucus, which he’ll co-chair with Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX). The caucus’ goal is to support a strong relationship between the U.S. and its northern neighbor.
  • Titus introduced a bill to promote the academic study of cannabis.
  • 314 Action Fund, a Democrat-aligned group working to put STEM professionals in office, has unsurprisingly endorsed Rosen, a former computer programmer.
  • Cortez Masto raised the issue of firefighter mental health and raising firefighter pay in a hearing on wildfire preparedness.
  • Titus and Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL), who represents a South Florida district, have a friendly wager on the Stanley Cup finals. If the Golden Knights win, Cherfilus-McCormick will gift Titus a key lime pie; if the Panthers turn it around, Titus will provide a Vegas gift basket to her Democratic colleague.

Notable and Quotable

“What you are seeing happen on the East Coast with the weather conditions because of the fire — we see it quite often, unfortunately, in the West. This has become our norm.”

  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), reminding freaked out East Coasters (like your newsletter writer) that wildfires are nothing new to Nevadans

Legislative Tracker


Legislation sponsored:

S.1805 — A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the rules for postponing certain deadlines by reason of disaster.

S.1885 — A bill to eliminate employment-based visa caps on abused, abandoned and neglected children eligible for humanitarian status, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1840 — A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to reauthorize and improve the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program for fiscal years 2024 through 2028, and for other purposes.

S.Res.243 — A resolution recognizing the month of June 2023 as "Immigrant Heritage Month," a celebration of the accomplishments and contributions of immigrants and their children in making the United States a healthier, safer, more diverse, prosperous country and acknowledging the importance of immigrants and their children to the future successes of the United States.

S.1884 — A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to revise and extend projects relating to children and to provide access to school-based comprehensive mental health programs.

S.1893 — A bill to establish a Federal Advisory Council to Support Victims of Gun Violence.

S.1909 — A bill to amend title 18, United States Code, to prohibit the illegal modification of firearms, and for other purposes.


Legislation sponsored:

S.1817 — A bill to direct the Secretary of Transportation to establish in the Department of Transportation a drone infrastructure inspection grant program and a drone education and training grant program, and for other purposes.

S.1845 — A bill to amend title XI of the Social Security Act to provide for the testing of a community-based palliative care model.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1829 — A bill to impose sanctions with respect to persons engaged in the import of petroleum from the Islamic Republic of Iran, and for other purposes.

S.Res.243 — A resolution recognizing the month of June 2023 as "Immigrant Heritage Month," a celebration of the accomplishments and contributions of immigrants and their children in making the United States a healthier, safer, more diverse, prosperous country and acknowledging the importance of immigrants and their children to the future successes of the United States.

S.1886 — A bill to establish a Federal Clearinghouse on Safety and Best Practices for Nonprofit Organizations, Faith-based Organizations, and Houses of Worship within the Department of Homeland Security, and for other purposes.

S.1893 — A bill to establish a Federal Advisory Council to Support Victims of Gun Violence.


Legislation sponsored:

H.R.3829 — To streamline the process for institutions of higher education to research marijuana.

H.R.3845 — To amend title 23, United States Code, to increase accessible transportation for individuals with disabilities.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.3850 — To amend title V of the Public Health Service Act to ensure protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth and their families.

H.Res.483 — Recognizing the month of June 2023 as "Immigrant Heritage Month," a celebration of the accomplishments and contributions of immigrants and their children in making the United States a healthier, safer, more diverse, prosperous country and acknowledging the importance of immigrants and their children to the future successes of the United States.

H.R.3899 — To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to establish a refundable child tax credit with monthly advance payment.


Legislation sponsored:

H.Res.478 — Expressing disapproval of the withdrawal by the Secretary of the Interior of approximately 22,684 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands in the Railroad Valley of Nye County, Nevada, from all forms of mineral entry under United States law, subject to valid existing rights.

H.R.3883 — To nullify Public Land Order No. 7921, withdrawing certain land in the Railroad Valley of Nye County, Nevada, from mineral entry.


Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.3899 — To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to establish a refundable child tax credit with monthly advance payment.


Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.3899 — To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to establish a refundable child tax credit with monthly advance payment.


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