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D.C. Download: Yucca Mountain rises again in Congress

While non-Nevadans expressed dismay about the lack of a long-term nuclear storage facility, they did not specify plans to reopen the Yucca debate.
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
CongressEnvironmentGovernmentYucca Mountain

Thought you’d heard the last of plans to license Yucca Mountain? As the delegation is fond of saying, you can never be too cautious when it comes to efforts to restart the nuclear waste debate. And this week in Congress, they did just that — bring up Yucca once again.

The News of the Week: Yucca hearing

It’s been six years since the House of Representatives passed a bill to use the empty nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, the most recent attempt to store the nation’s nuclear waste in the desert 100 miles from Las Vegas.

The project has been opposed by generations of Nevada electeds on both sides of the aisle, and after that bill died in the Senate six years ago, then-President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden have committed to not fund the project. 

But that doesn’t mean other members of Congress are happy about it.

In a Wednesday hearing on the management of spent nuclear fuel in the House Energy & Commerce Committee — no Nevadans are members — leaders took turns lamenting that the Yucca site, first chosen as the sole site in 1987 and approved for funding in 2002, still houses no nuclear waste due to the power of multiple generations of Nevada politicians.

“Opposition is not safety related or technical,” said Energy & Commerce chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). “It’s political. Opposition from states like Nevada in particular to this program has inhibited congressional appropriations and driven the executive branch to dismantle what had been an otherwise technically successful program.”

Her frustration with “states like Nevada” — the only state federally designated to house a long-term nuclear waste site — extended to subcommittee chair Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), who said, “Unfortunately, politics obstructed the bill.” 

The hearing comes as Congress considers what to do with spent nuclear fuel in the wake of the appropriation of funds for domestic uranium production and new reactors. Currently, nuclear waste is stored on-site at plants — but recent congressional action to promote uranium enrichment has restarted conversations of what to do with the requisite waste. 

True as the implication of political mischief may be — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was famously able to kill the project for years — Nevada is as politically relevant as ever. A swing state in the presidential race with a toss-up Senate contest and three competitive House races, high-level politicians, including Biden and Trump, have seen the value in not being Nevada’s nuclear villain.

Meanwhile, ranking member Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) told E&E News she wants to see licensing procedures at Yucca restarted. Democrats in recent years have favored the consent-based approach promoted by the Nevada delegation, which would require state, local and tribal governments to consent to the use of any long-term nuclear storage site. 

That’s the approach the Biden administration has adopted as well — though they’ve yet to find any willing takers.

The Nevada Angle

Nevada delegation members said they don’t expect any legislation to follow the subcommittee hearing — neither Duncan nor McMorris Rodgers introduced any bills or suggested they would.

“[They’re] just airing grievances,” Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) said. “But, that’s what we’re always prepared for — there’s many people around this country who would love to send nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain.”

Lee noted that the Biden administration committed in 2021 to oppose the use of Yucca as a long-term storage site, and has subsequently not included it in any budget request — and Congress had left the issue as well. Prior to him, Trump, who put out three budgets including Yucca funding, reversed course in 2020 — when he was up for re-election.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) was more succinct — posting a screengrab of an E&E News article on the hearing asking about the return of Yucca with a one-word caption: “No.”

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) launched a preemptive strike by sending Duncan and DeGette a letter outlining the state’s opposition and reminding them that Nevada does not produce any nuclear waste. And she offered her Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act — requiring local consent before the construction of a repository — as an alternative.

Titus cautioned that though no specific Yucca revival legislation has been proposed, she’s still on guard for any attempts to fund Yucca through the appropriations process.

“I’ve always said you can never let down your guard,” she said. “They will never quit.”

The Impact

While presidents’ unwillingness to pursue Yucca funding in recent years likely owes to immense local opposition in a swing state, whoever wins the next election will be in their second term — and will not have to face Nevada voters again. Additionally, Nevada does not have a Senate race in 2026 — another mechanism by which Nevadans have kept presidents in their party from moving forward in Yucca. 

Congress is not the only player in the Yucca game. The repository has a complicated licensing structure that the state can — and would — fight at multiple stages, as it successfully has in the past. 

Still, if there’s going to be another serious run at funding Yucca, I’d eye the next congressional session as the time to do it. 

Around the Capitol

✡️Rosen leads the way on antisemitismSen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) is leading a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators in introducing the Countering Antisemitism Act, a series of interventions aimed at curbing rising domestic antisemitism. The bill would create a national coordinator position to oversee implementation of federal strategies to combat antisemitism, compel various agencies to issue annual reports detailing how implementation on the antisemitism strategy is going and designate May as Jewish American Heritage Month.

Rosen, a former synagogue president, co-chairs the Senate Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism.

🧑‍⚖️Cardinal shuffle — With Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) taking over as appropriations chair this year, there will need to be some reshuffling among the other subcommittee chairs — or cardinals — given that Cole previously led the transportation subcommittee. With Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) abandoning Financial Services to take over transportation, and Homeland Security cardinal Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) sliding over to Financial Services, there’s now an opening at Homeland Security — considered the most difficult and thankless of the cardinal assignments given that disagreements about border funding nearly caused a government shutdown this year.

The most junior cardinal traditionally takes the Legislative Branch subcommittee chair, so newcomer Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) has received that gavel. That means unless a more senior member wants to switch over to Homeland Security, the job will belong to second-most-junior — Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV).

On Thursday afternoon, Amodei said he believed the job is his, having already received a congratulatory text from Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA). He promised to work the role “respectfully and relentlessly” — and confirmed the position Friday.

Being the Homeland cardinal would represent a step into the national political waters for Amodei — think grilling embattled Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and managing funding for agencies such as Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including the associated political debates and snafus that come with such a hot-button subcommittee.

🧗Lee outside Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) — an avid mountain biker and hiker — had two pieces of legislation pass the House as part of an outdoor recreation package. The first, the BOLT Act, would identify long-distance biking trails on public lands for mapping, while the second, the PARC Act, permits climbing on wilderness designated land.

Fun fact: Lee and I bonded last year over having both torn our ACLs — I have to give her props for going climbing with free soloist Alex Honnold, while I’m still afraid to return to the scene of the crime (my rec basketball league).

🧑‍⚕️Nurse! He’s introducing legislation again…Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) introduced a bill to improve wages and benefits for long-term care workers in nursing homes, hoping to subsidize an industry that suffers from high turnover that subsequently worsens the quality of care received by seniors.

Horsford’s bill would create a grant program for states to subsidize long-term care workers’ wages, provide them with student loan repayment assistance and help with transportation and child care costs.

Horsford, whose grandmother spent 30 years in a nursing home following a stroke, said he hopes the grant funding would help with retention and recruitment in the long-term care industry.

What I’m Reading

Roll Call: New House appropriations cardinals slate starts to take shape

Almost as fun as the Cupid Shuffle.

The Nevada Independent: More states banning ‘prop bets,’ citing harassment of athletes

Over-under on this eventually coming to a vote in Congress?

Los Angeles Times: California’s housing crisis is hitting Nevada hard. Could that help Trump win a crucial state?

In which Horsford and former Gov. Steve Sisolak opine on the politics of housing — and the Californication driving prices up.

Notable and Quotable

“I wish people would spend their time figuring out how we're going to get to a safety standard and begin the development of consent-based siting, and not [Yucca].”

— Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV)

Vote of the week

S.J.Res.61A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Federal Highway Administration relating to "National Performance Management Measures; Assessing Performance of the National Highway System, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Measure."

Republicans challenged a Biden administration regulation that requires states to measure greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles on federal highways and set targets for reducing them. The resolution was passed by the Senate with all Republicans and the support of usual suspect Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and vulnerable Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Jon Tester (D-MT); but the swing state Democrats, including Rosen, held firm.



Staffing Announcements

I wanted to take this space to acknowledge the passing of Kurt Englehart, a senior staffer for Cortez Masto. Condolences to Kurt’s family, his co-workers in Northern Nevada and in Washington, D.C., and all whose lives he touched.


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