House Strikes Compromise on Yucca, Interim Nuclear Storage

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Brian Dabbs

A bipartisan measure to pressure a long-awaited decision on permanent nuclear waste storage, while also paving the way for private interim facilities, will move to the House floor following the Energy and Commerce Committee’s approval June 28.

Lawmakers struck a compromise just hours before the hearing to authorize Energy Department funding for the interim facilities. That compromise would also now push the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to finalize a decision on Nevada’s Yucca Mountain site, the location identified in law for a permanent repository, within 30 months of enactment.

Another measure garnered Democratic support by removing language from the underlying legislation (H.R. 3053) to potentially free up Nevada’s water supply for the Yucca Mountain project.

The committee approved the bill 49-4 as part of a day-long markup on a set of energy and environment bills.

Funding Interim Storage

The nuclear bill would now authorize the Energy Department to spend at least $50 million annually from 2020-2022 to fund the first interim storage facility.

“This gives those private storage initiatives financial surety,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the lead sponsor. Nuclear waste is currently stored on-site at the commercial nuclear power plants that produce it.

The bill would now allow one interim facility to be built and funded prior to an NRC decision on Yucca Mountain. In order to transport waste to the facility, however, the NRC must make a decision on Yucca Mountain or the Energy Department must determine a decision is imminent.

The Obama administration stymied progress on the project over recent years despite a 2009 NRC approval of allowable radiation levels at the site. Congress originally directed construction of a storage facility at Yucca Mountain in 1982.

Political Fight Endures

Nearly all Nevada lawmakers oppose the Yucca project, and several members of Congress lashed out against the committee approval.

“This legislation is dead on arrival in the Senate,” Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), said in a statement. “We owe it to the American taxpayer to move past the failed policies of Yucca Mountain.”

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) opposed the bill over concerns that the interim storage facilities will become de facto permanent repositories. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received two applications from private companies to accept the spent fuel.

But many members from both sides of the aisle lauded approval of the bill, and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) touted both the permanent and interim storage language. “Both avenues got helped today because I think generally there’s support for Yucca with a few exceptions, mostly in Nevada,” Peters told Bloomberg BNA.

Yucca Mountain is 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Other Energy, Ozone Bills

Despite some bipartisan camaraderie surrounding the nuclear waste vote, lawmakers locked horns over other legislation considered at the June 28 markup.

A bill (H.R. 806) that would delay deadlines for the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 ozone standards received sharp criticism from Democrats. It was approved 29-24.

Democrats also largely opposed legislation to remove the executive branch from the approval process for cross-border oil and natural gas pipelines.

That bill (H.R. 2883) would allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to authorize construction and other work on pipelines that cross the Canadian and Mexican borders. It was approved 31-20.

The committee also approved a hydropower project licensing legislation on a partisan basis. The bill (H.R. 3043) would designate FERC as the lead hydropower regulator and extend the time period for construction of hydropower facilities.

Democrats argued the bill would under-serve tribal communities in the regulatory process. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) allowed a voice vote on the bill after he and Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) agreed to negotiate a modified version before a House floor vote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Dabbs in Washington at bdabbs@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

For More Information

The original text of H.R. 3053 is at http://src.bna.com/qk2.

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Try Environment & Energy Report