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Heller Continues Long-Standing Fight Against Yucca at Hearing

Washington, D.C.  – During a U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment hearing on legislation to revive Yucca Mountain, Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) made it clear: Yucca Mountain is dead. Heller urged the committee to move beyond the failed Yucca Mountain project, citing that it has already wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and lacks support from Nevadans, the Nevada delegation, and Governor Brian Sandoval. During his testimony, Heller encouraged the consideration of his bipartisan legislation, the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, which permits the construction of a nuclear waste repository only if the Secretary of Energy receives written consent from the governor of the host state, affected local officials, and affected Indian tribes.

Heller was also joined by Representatives Ruben Kihuen (NV-04), Dina Titus (NV-01), and Jacky Rosen (NV-03). Click HERE or below to watch Heller’s testimony.

Heller’s submitted testimony:

Chairman Shimkus, Ranking Member Tonko, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you at today’s hearing.  

As the Senior Senator from Nevada, nothing is more important to me than the well-being of my home state and of all Nevadans. 

Since 1987, the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository has been a thorn in Nevada’s side.

Due to political antics, not science, Nevada quickly moved to the federal government’s number one targeted location to permanently store all of the nation’s nuclear waste.

Our state has been fighting this misguided proposal ever since, and we’re not finished.

Although I recognize both the crucial role nuclear power plays in our nation’s long-term energy strategy and the need to properly store expired nuclear fuel, I remain strongly opposed to any efforts to reinstate Yucca Mountain. 

I believe this ill-conceived project would not only cause significant harm to the well-being of my home state and all Nevadans, but it also poses a national security risk that is too great to ignore.

My position remains clear: Yucca Mountain is dead and should remain dead.  It’s time to move past failed proposals of the past and look to solutions of the future.

Mr. Chairman, while we both know that we disagree on the issue of Yucca Mountain, we are in agreement that it is in the best interest of our nation that a program to dispose of and store spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste be implemented as soon as possible.

I appreciate your commitment to ensure that progress is made on this issue; however, I do not believe the bill that is before the committee today – the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 – is the solution.

Rather, I believe it is heavy-handed, federal government-only proposal to reinstate Yucca Mountain while making false promises to the residents of Nevada. 

With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, I do not believe this is a solution to our nation’s nuclear waste problem.  In fact, I believe it would only lead to more litigation on the issue, wasting more taxpayer dollars while usurping states’ air and water permitting authority.

Governor Sandoval has made clear the State of Nevada will contest over 200 elements of any license application, which would likely take years to resolve and cost the federal government over $1.6 billion. 

Rather than attempting to force this project on the people of Nevada – a state that currently does not have any nuclear power plants of its own – it is clear taxpayers’ dollars would be better spent identifying viable alternatives for the long-term storage of nuclear waste in areas that are willing to house it.

Before I discuss an alternative viable solution to this problem, I would like to first address the bill that is before us today. 

I have a test – or an entrepreneurial standard – that I usually perform when evaluating legislation.  I call it the “More, Higher, Less test.”  Does this bill provide more competition, with higher quality, at less cost? 

Let me address each of these categories with respect to the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017. 

Does this bill provide more competition?  Instead of allowing for consent-based siting for willing communities, this bill would make Yucca Mountain the only repository.  It also eliminates the current requirement for progress on a second repository. 

This legislation does, however, allow for more federal government control over state permitting authority usurping the State of Nevada. 

The pre-emption of state water law and states’ authority to issue air permits is jarring to say the least and should be of concern to the members of this subcommittee.

Particularly in a region where water is a scarce and precious resource.

With that, I ask does this bill provide a higher quality?  Not to Nevadans.  In fact, by eliminating the current capacity limitation of 70,000 metric tons of heavy metal, this legislation would effectively allow for the unlimited disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. 

Furthermore, by allowing the EPA Administrator to change the repository radiation protection standards before final licensing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, you run the risk of eroding standards that were put in place to protect public health. 

Finally, by allowing thousands of nuclear waste shipments to Yucca Mountain, you create a higher national security risk by completely ignoring recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences and the Blue Ribbon Commission for stronger safety and security measures.

This is a risk that is not just felt by the people of Nevada, but also businesses within the state.  Las Vegas continues to serve as a world class tourist destination, and any attempt to reinstate the repository will have significant economic impact on this industry and visitors to the state.

Finally, will this bill provide less cost?  I strongly believe that it will only serve to continue to waste taxpayer dollars on a failed project. 

The federal government has already spent decades and wasted billions of dollars to design and permit Yucca Mountain without any rational hope that Nevada would consent to the project – and Nevada never will.

As I said earlier in my testimony, Governor Sandoval has made clear that the state of Nevada will contest any license application.  This will mean years of litigation while progress remains stalled on how to dispose of spent nuclear waste, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I come to the table with a bipartisan solution supported by the members of my delegation that join us today. 

I want to thank Congresswoman Titus (NV-1), Congressman Kihuen (NV-4), and Congresswoman Rosen (NV-3) for partnering with me to introduce the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act. 

Our legislation would allow for the construction of a nuclear waste repository only if the Secretary of Energy has secured written consent from the governor of the host state, affected units of local government, and affected Indian tribes. 

This legislation is consistent with the consent-based siting initiative to site waste storage and disposal facilities initiated by the Department of Energy (DOE) in late 2015.

This open process ensures that a state has a meaningful voice in the process and that no state will be forced to accept nuclear waste against its own will. 

Identifying communities that are willing hosts for long-term repositories, rather than forcing it upon states that have outright opposed such a site for decades, is the only viable solution to our nation’s nuclear waste problem. 

Taxpayer dollars are better spent securing safe and viable alternatives for the long-term storage of nuclear waste, especially in a community that is willing to house it.

I encourage this subcommittee to focus its efforts on that worthwhile initiative. 

Failing to do so would just squander more time and scant federal resources that would be better spent pursuing viable solutions to this important public policy challenge. 

Chairman Shimkus, Ranking Member Tonko, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you today. 

Once again, I stand ready to partner with you to find a viable solution to this problem once and for all.

 

 

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Heller: Nevada Shouldn’t Have to Shoulder Entire Nation’s Nuclear Waste Burden

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) urged the Administration to drop its proposed revival of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository on the Senate floor. During his speech, Heller emphasized the need for affordable, clean energy, and the importance of working toward feasible solutions, including bipartisan legislation he introduced earlier this year, to solve the country’s nuclear waste problem. Click HERE or below to watch Heller’s speech.

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

“I come to the floor of the United States Senate today to discuss an issue that is extremely important to the State of Nevada – Yucca Mountain.

“For over thirty years, those two words have incited anger and frustration in Nevadans across my state.  It isn’t just a mountain 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas – it represents a decades long fight by some in Washington to ‘wrong Nevada.’

“In 1982, the Congress approved the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and charged the Department of Energy (DOE) with finding a long-term storage site for the disposal of spent nuclear material. At the time, Yucca Mountain was one of many proposed geological sites to investigate. 

“Unfortunately, the Act was amended in 1987 to concentrate only on Yucca Mountain. Nevada, a state without any nuclear power plants, was legally compelled to bear the sole burden of the long-term storage of all of our nation’s nuclear waste. This decision was made on bad politics, not sound science. And ever since, the debate on solutions to this problem has been one-sided and the study of alternative solutions has been curtailed.  

“Instead of honoring Nevada’s persistent scientific and procedural objections to the repository, the federal government has spent decades of time and wasted billions of dollars to design and permit Yucca Mountain – all without any notion that Nevada would consent to the project. I have spent the past decade here in the Congress successfully fighting off efforts to force this project on Nevada, and I will continue that fight for as long as I serve my state. 

“I want to be clear – nuclear power is an important part of our nation’s energy portfolio. I am one of the most outspoken Republicans in Congress advocating for policies that make our nation’s energy cleaner and more affordable. Nuclear energy, which represents roughly 20 percent of our nation’s current power production, plays an important role in providing carbon emissions-free baseload energy in many states. 

“But Nevada, a state without a nuclear power plant, should not have to shoulder the entire nation’s waste burden. We have pursued other strategies to meet Nevada’s electricity needs.  

“As we examine viable solutions to the waste problem, it is important to note that there are some promising technological developments that could fundamentally change the nation’s waste storage needs. There are new reactor technologies that could repurpose previously generated spent fuel and produce carbon-free electricity with little to no waste.  International research and development of innovative storage solutions and recycling processes could also be part of the solution.

“Given the Yucca-centric strategy’s previous failures, it would be logical for the government to try something new – strategies with promise. But no, Washington is at it again. 

“Apparently, nearly thirty years of wasted time and billions of squandered taxpayer dollars simply isn’t enough. The Department of Energy’s recently submitted ‘skinny budget’ includes $120 million dollars, in part to ‘restart licensing activities for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.’ $120 million dollars… that is a lot of money in itself, but let’s be clear, this is just a fraction of the true costs.  

“Nevada has made clear it will contest each and every one of the 200+ elements of any license application. State and federal officials have estimated that the licensing process for Yucca Mountain would take four to five years at a cost that exceeds 1.6 billion dollars.

“1.6 billion dollars… I ask my colleagues – in these difficult fiscal times, is it financially prudent to invest over 1.6 billion in any program that hasn’t yielded results in over 30 years?

“In case there is any confusion, I want to make sure everyone understands – Nevada’s position hasn’t changed, and it isn’t changing on this issue. 

“Governor Brian Sandoval continues to strongly oppose the project, in fact he shared my same sentiments a few weeks ago when he stated QUOTE ‘I will vigorously fight the storage of high-level nuclear waste in Nevada. Any attempt to resurrect this ill-conceived project will be met with relentless opposition, and maximum resources.’

“Ever serious presumed candidate for Governor in 2018, both Republicans and Democrats, strongly oppose Yucca Mountain.  Nevada’s Attorney General Adam Laxalt recently requested $7.2 million of state resources over the next two years to represent the state’s interest in the licensing process over Yucca Mountain, which he called QUOTE “a poster child of federal overreach.” And soon, our legislature will reaffirm the state’s opposition to the project with the passage of Assembly Joint Resolution 10. 

“In sum, it will cost at least $1.6 billion just to get through the legal proceedings, let alone get a storage facility operational.

“And make no mistake about it, I will continue to lead the Nevada Congressional Delegation’s effort to stymie any misguided efforts to spend one more federal dollar on the Yucca Mountain repository.  It is fiscally irresponsible and simply won’t solve this important public policy issue facing our nation.

I implore my colleagues to work with me to solve our nation’s spent nuclear fuel and defense high-level waste storage problem in a pragmatic way.  There is an old adage – “’he definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’  Efforts by the Executive Branch and some members of this Congress to direct billions more towards a repository that will never be built is just that – insanity.

“Our nation cannot fully move forward with viable solutions until Congress moves past Yucca Mountain. Last year, the Department of Energy began a consent-based siting initiative to site alternative storage and disposal facilities. Identifying communities willing to be hosts for long-term repositories, rather than forcing it upon states that have outright opposed such a site for decades, is the only sustainable path forward. I whole heartedly support these efforts – in fact I introduced bipartisan legislation earlier this year, the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, to codify it into law.

“This strategy was wisely recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, a 15 member, bipartisan group tasked by the federal government to development feasible solutions to nuclear waste disposal. This type of open process ensures all Americans have a meaningful voice in the process if their community is being considered for a future nuclear waste repository. I am confident the government can find safe sites through the careful consideration of all alternatives based on credible scientific information, and not by politicians in Washington. 

“Let’s stop the insanity. The Administration and Congressional Yucca advocates should focus their efforts on practical solutions, not more of the same.

"Let’s advance innovative energy technologies that repurpose and reduce spent fuel.

"Let’s invest in the research and development of recycling and alternative storage methods.

"And most importantly, let’s identify safe and viable alternatives for the storage of the nuclear waste that remains in areas that are willing to house it.   

“These are worthwhile initiatives that actually, to use a football analogy, ‘move the ball down the field.’ For far too long, our nation has been going “three and out,” because Washington keeps trying to run the same stale game plan. 

“I am working diligently on feasible solutions to this important problem. And I urge my colleagues, here today on the floor of the United States Senate, to join me in that fight.  I stand here ready to work for what is best for both my state and our nation. 

“Thank you.”

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Washington, D.C. – During today’s Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security hearing, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) spoke with Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, Executive Director of St. Louis Lambert International Airport, and Bob Montgomery, Vice President of Airport Affairs for Southwest Airlines — the highest traffic airline at McCarran Airport. Heller asked how Congress can better focus on infrastructure in order to promote tourism, a major driver of Nevada’s economy. The witnesses responded by discussing the need to reduce regulatory barriers to approving airport construction and mentioned the important role airports play in serving as the hub for public transit. Click HERE or below to watch.

Background:

As Congress prepares for a possible infrastructure bill, Senator Heller is looking to prioritize projects that will improve travel to and through the state of Nevada. Further development of our state’s airports will be a top priority.  

Throughout his time in Congress and the Nevada State Assembly, Heller has worked for solutions that will promote Nevada’s tourism economy. In 2015, Heller successfully secured tourism-focused provisions in the first long-term highway bill approved by Congress in nearly a decade. In 2016, he included policies in the Senate-passed aviation bill to bolster air service at smaller airports and expand facilities that offer multiple modes of transportation (i.e. bus, rail, Uber, and taxis). In the final days of the 114th Congress, the Nevada delegation successfully enacted bipartisan legislation that encourages public-private partnerships to boost staffing and make infrastructure improvements at airports – the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act

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(Washington, DC) –U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) today spoke with members from multiple Veterans Service Organizations during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing about the importance of America keeping its promises to our veterans. Heller highlighted issues that are affecting Nevada’s heroes, including services needed at the new Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Clinic in Pahrump and access to VA health care for veterans in Ely. He noted that the VA honored his request for a public forum with the Ely community to discuss the expiration of VA’s contract for veteran care with the William Bee Ririe Hospital and maintaining quality and timely care for Ely veterans. Furthermore, following a conversation with a constituent during last night’s telephone town hall, Heller emphasized the importance of Congress passing a bill he has cosponsored, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (S.422), which ensures “Blue Water” veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are able to receive the disability and health care benefits they have earned. Click HERE or below to watch.

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(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) spoke with commissioners from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing. Senator Heller asked about a critical issue for rural Nevada: expanding access to broadband. He went on to discuss the possibility of including rural broadband funding in a potential infrastructure bill and how those funds could be efficiently utilized to expand broadband access in rural states like Nevada. Click HERE or below to watch.

Background:

  • Building on his efforts from last Congress, Senator Heller remains committed to bringing broadband access to rural Nevadans and was pleased his amendments from last Congress were included in this year’s MOBILE Now Act (S.19):
  • Heller Amendment to Impose a 270-day Shot Clock on Application Decisions: One of the greatest inhibitors to broadband infrastructure expansion is the time it takes for federal agencies, particularly those that manage federal lands, to act on applications for easements or rights-of-way for constructing or modifying broadband infrastructure on federal property. This amendment implements a 270-day shot clock for agencies to respond to applications for these specific easements or rights-of-way.
  • Heller Amendment to Streamline Broadband Facility Location Applications on Federal Lands: This amendment requires the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) to develop recommendations, in coordination with federal agencies that manage federal lands, to streamline the broadband facility location application process. NTIA must also follow up with these agencies regarding what actions have been taken in relation to these recommendations.
  • On May 24, 2016, Senator Heller wrote to the FCC, requesting that any funds directed toward broadband deployment in rural and high-cost areas are technology neutral to ensure that parts of the country with challenging terrain like Nevada can use technology that is cost-effective and feasible for delivering broadband to that area.
  • In February of 2016, Senator Heller questioned panelists at a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing regarding current FCC programs, such as the Connect America Fund and the Mobility Fund, and how these programs are being used by the Federal Communications Commission to bring rural communities greater Internet access.
  • In July of 2015, Senator Heller spoke at a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing addressing the future of wireless broadband and spectrum policy in rural towns. During the hearing, he spoke about the importance of bringing more spectrum to the market and highlighted how to deploy faster Internet service to rural areas across Nevada.

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(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) spoke with Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Nominee Seema Verma at her hearing with the Senate Finance Committee. The discussion focused on issues dealing with upcoming health care reforms and the effects it could have on Nevada — a state that took the Medicaid expansion and has a sizable portion of its population on Medicaid and Medicare. Heller submitted a letter for the record that was sent to him by Nevada House Speaker Jason Frierson (D-NV) and State Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford (D-NV). Heller discussed his concerns about block granting Medicaid. Click HERE or below to watch.

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(Washington, DC) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller spoke with Chairwoman Janet Yellen during the Federal Reserve’s Semiannual Monetary Policy Report. Heller asked about possible interest rate hikes this year, and how the recovering housing market affects their decision. Click HERE or below to watch.

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