A congressional field trip to Yucca Mountain drew fire from most of the Nevada delegation, as House and Senate appropriators prepare to reconcile differences in the Department of Energy budget, including whether to provide funding for the proposed nuclear waste repository.
Republican Sen. Dean Heller was the latest member of Nevada’s congressional lawmakers to register his displeasure about the trip, set for Saturday, when Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., will lead 11 fellow lawmakers on a tour of the Yucca site.
“The bill for this trip is the closest that Rep. Shimkus is ever going to get to moving waste to Nevada,” Heller said in a release Friday. “The only purpose that this trip will serve is to allow the congressional delegation to see first-hand the devastating impact that Yucca Mountain would have on Nevada’s tourism economy and the 40 million visitors that Las Vegas welcomes each year.”
Heller’s comments echoed those from Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, Jacky Rosen and Ruben Kihuen and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
On Thursday, Shimkus, who authored a bill to restart the project that passed the House in May, invited Titus and Rosen to attend the trip. Both rejected his invitation.
Rosen acknowledged that she had never been to the site, but she argued that she didn’t have to in order to understand that the project is a threat to the state and unsuitable for a repository of the nation’s nuclear waste.
Kihuen had initially asked, on Tuesday, to go on the trip on, but he eventually decided not to. On Wednesday he said he declined to go on the trip because he was invited at the last minute and had scheduling conflicts. Kihuen’s statement seemed to conflict with the fact that he was
prepared to go on the trip earlier in the week. When asked about the incongruity, Kihuen declined to comment adding that “I refer you to the statement. That’s all I have to say about that.”
The debate over Yucca comes as House and Senate appropriators will sit down, as soon as next week, to work out their differences over funding for a spending measure that includes the Department of Energy.
The House package, which is made up of three different spending bills, includes $267.7 million to support licensing activities at Yucca Mountain, while the Senate package includes no money for Yucca.
Heller and Cortez Masto have worked with Senate appropriators to prevent funding for the project. They have been more successful than the Nevada’s House members, in part, because of the upcoming midterm election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to protect Heller and the slim Republican Senate majority. The project is unpopular in Nevada and keeping it from getting funding is beneficial to his campaign. He’s running against Rosen, which is one of this election cycle’s most closely watched Senate races and could determine control of the chamber.
The so-called conference committee, where lawmakers hammer out differences between the House and Senate in order to send the president a single package that they can both pass, had been scheduled for Thursday, but it was postponed.
There is also $30 million for the project in the annual defense policy bill, which the delegation is also tracking.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican, told The Nevada Independent Thursday that he would consider a nomination to become a federal judge, but he stressed that he’s focused on running for re-election.
Amodei said that Heller had approached him earlier in the year to ask if he could put him through the process. Amodei agreed, but he downplayed the likelihood. “If there’s an opportunity that comes up, if, then we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said.
In the Senate, Heller and Cortez Masto split on a non-binding request to House and Senate negotiators working on the spending package that they include language in the measure that states that Congress has a role on implementing tariffs imposed to protect national security.
Heller was one of 11 Republicans who voted against the measure, which sought to reclaim the GOP orthodoxy as the party that has typically embraced free trade and viewed tariffs as a type of tax that hurts economic growth.
His office declined to comment on his vote, which comes after he introduced a bill last month that would remove the 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels imposed in January that threatens the state’s burgeoning renewable energy industry.
The measure, which passed 88 to 11, was prompted by President Donald Trump’s trade strategy, which imposes these national-security-threat tariffs as a tool to force countries like China to the table to negotiate new, more advantageous trade deals. But the strategy has made many Republicans uncomfortable and has raised concerns that the effect on the economy could limit the beneficial effects of the tax cuts.
Lastly, the House Natural Resources Committee approved a bill that would name a peak on Frenchman Mountain for Nevada’s first female lieutenant governor and education leader, Maude Frazier.
“It is fitting that we honor the legacy of Maude Frazier and her contributions to the Las Vegas Valley,” said Titus who sponsored the legislation. “Her fortitude and pioneer spirit are inspirational and set an example for every Nevadan, especially the women of our state who continue to fight their way into state houses, school boards, classrooms, boardrooms, and the U.S. Congress.”
The measure now awaits consideration by the full House.
For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.
SEN. DEAN HELLER
S. 3199 – A bill to establish an expedited process for removal of senior executives of the Internal Revenue Service based on performance or misconduct.
REP. JACKY ROSEN
H.R. 6340 – To amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to cap prescription drug cost-sharing, and for other purposes.