Yucca Mountain Approved by Congress
The Yucca Mountain legislative battle came to an end on July 9, 2002, when the Senate voted 60-39 in favor of S.J. Res 34, overriding Governor Kenny Guinn's veto of the Yucca Mountain project. The House passed H.J. Res. 87 on April 25, approving Yucca Mountain with a margin of 306-117.
The issue came to Congress in April 2002 after Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn vetoed President Bush's designation of Yucca Mountain as the nation's High Level Waste (HLW) repository. Bush, acting on the recommendation of Energy Secretary Spenser Abraham, approved the site on February 15.
The House, after holding two hearings, quickly passed the H.J. Res. 87 with a large majority. The Senate held three Yucca hearings in mid to late May, but delayed vote on Yucca until after the 4th of July break.
It was the aim of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-SD, along with Senators Harry Reid, D-NV, and John Ensign, R-NV, to kill the Yucca Mountain project by not ever calling up S.J. Res. 34 to vote. According to the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which was designed to fast-track the Yucca Mountain project through Congress, both the Senate and the House only had 90 days to override Governor Guinn's veto once it had been made. After that, Guinn's veto would stand – and the nation would be forced to look elsewhere for a solution to the nuclear waste problem.
Daschle, true to his promise, did not to call up the resolution for consideration. However, in an unprecedented, though expected, move, Republican Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska moved to open debate on Yucca Mountain. Reid and Ensign contested the move, arguing that it set a bad precedent to go against the Majority Leader. "This vote will make a loud noise and will change the way the Senate operates," Ensign said.
4 hours of spirited debate on Yucca Mountain followed. Reid and Ensign talked about the dangers of radioactive waste transportation and the risk of terrorism. "Al Qaeda doesn't need to buy nuclear material to smuggle a dirty bomb into our country; Congress is doing the hard work for them," said Ensign. He called the Yucca Mountain resolution "The Terrorism Facilitation Act."
Several Senators agreed with the Nevada lawmakers. "We're going to rue the day that we authorized the movement of that much waste through that many states and neighborhoods," said Daschle.
"Fundamentally, I want the waste out of Michigan," said Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan. "But I don't want to create more risks in the process."
"I say to my colleagues, this is a moment of truth for every person here," Senator Barbara Boxer, D-California, said. "The things we do can come back to haunt us."
But supporters of the Yucca Mountain project argued that the repository was necessary for the nation's health and security. They claimed the nuclear power industry would have nowhere to turn if Yucca Mountain were defeated. "Looking for another site . . . is not realistic. We're not likely to find a better site next time," said Senator Jeff Bingham, D-NM.
"If we don't do this, do we go back to the beginning?" the Senate Republican leader, Trent Lott of Mississippi, asked at the close of debate. "The complications that would be caused, the irresponsible consequences of not passing this vote today, would be almost incomprehensible."
At the end of the debate, the Senate held a roll call on the procedural issue. The motion to proceed passed 60-39.
Ensign was one of three Republicans to oppose the motion to proceed. The others were Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado and Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Ensign had counted on Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett, both Republicans, to oppose the motion as well. However, Hatch and Bennet announced the day before the vote that they would support Yucca Mountain. The announcement came shortly after a meeting between the two senators and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. Abraham told Hatch and Bennet that if the Yucca Mountain project were defeated, the nuclear waste could wind up in Utah at the Goshute Skull Valley Indian Reservation. "I would rather it pass through Utah than stay in Utah," Senator Bennett said.
Fifteen Democrats, including Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, also voted in favor of the motion. Most prominent Democrats, however, opposed the motion, including Senator Tom Daschle, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, and Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts.
The Senate did not take a roll-call vote on the final resolution, but decided to use the procedural vote as a test. When it passed 60-39, S.J. Res. 34 was then put to a voice vote. Consequently, the resolution finalizing Yucca Mountain as a dump for 77,000 tons of the nation's nuclear waste was passed on a voice vote, relieving senators from having to defend voting on the record in favor of the proposal.
Senators Reid and Ensign were disappointed, though not surprised at the outcome. They said their intense efforts to lobby their colleagues were overwhelmed by lobbying by the nuclear industry and the White House.
"It feels like somebody has punched me in the gut about 100 times," said Ensign. "I feel very, very disappointed about the vote today."
Now that the Yucca Mountain project has been approved by Congress, the next step will be for the Department of Energy to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a license to construct the site. The application is not expected to be filed before December 2004.
However, despite Congressional approval, both the senators and Governor Guinn vow to continue the fight.
"This battle's not over," Reid insisted. "This is a skirmish in a war."
Reid, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, pledged to slow the project by squeezing its budget each year. He is also chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the NRC, which in a sense gives him oversight of the review process. He vowed to be a "more aggressive" NRC watchdog in the approval process.
The State of Nevada has also filed five lawsuits over the past year to stop the Yucca Mountain project. Governor Guinn thinks Nevada will fare better in Court than it did in Congress. "Now the process moves to the federal courts, where the playing field is level and Nevada's factual, scientific arguments will be heard by impartial judges."
Guinn says he is "highly confident that Nevada will prevail."
Las Vegas Sun 7/10/02
Las Vegas Review-Journal 7/10/02
Boston Globe 7/10/02
Nuclear Waste Legislation Archive
LitigationNevada's Yucca Mountain lawsuits
Click here to read the Congressional Testimonies in full, including statements by Governor Guinn, Senators Reid and Ensign, and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.
U.S. Representative Jim Gibbons, R-NV, Governor Kenny Guinn, and State Senator Jon Porter, R-Henderson at a Congressional Hearing.
Nuclear Waste Legislation Links
Congressional Record of the Senate Debate 07/09/02
PDF file, 48 pages, 387KB
Bill Summary and Status for S.J. Res. 34
Statement of Governor Guinn on Senate vote
Nuclear Waste Legislation in the News
July 23, 2002 -- Bush Clears Way for Yucca Nuclear Waste Dump -- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Brushing aside state safety concerns and objections from Nevada lawmakers, President Bush ( news - web sites) signed a resolution on Tuesday clearing the way for the burial of nuclear waste from across the nation in Nevada's Yucca Mountain.
July 23, 2002 -- Reid takes bite out of Energy Department spending -- Nevada Democrat's committee unveils plan to cut nuclear waste disposal budget by 36 percent -- -- WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid took a fresh swipe Monday at the Yucca Mountain Project, proposing to cut the Energy Department's budget for nuclear waste disposal by more than a third.
July 11, 2002 -- Senators who led in nuke money voted for Yucca -- WASHINGTON -- The senators who have received the most money from the nuclear industry voted for Yucca Mountain,according to a campaign money watchdog group. The 45 Republicans who voted for the nuclear waste dump project on Tuesday received an average $50,585 between 1997 and 2002 from companies that operate nuclear power plants, nuclear trade groups, and companies that develop nuclear technology -- Las Vegas Sun
July 10, 2002 YUCCA MOUNTAIN: SENATE OKS DUMP -- Nuclear lobby wins by count of 60-39 WASHINGTON -- Fifteen years after Congress passed the "Screw Nevada Bill," the deed was done Tuesday as senators voted decisively to store the nation's deadliest nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain -- by Steve Tetreault, Las Vegas Review-Journal
July 10, 2002 Nevadans look ahead: Obstacles remain for government to proceed -- WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., took a quick phone call Tuesday from Gov. Kenny Guinn in the middle of the Senate debate on Yucca Mountain, a few hours before the state lost its epic battle to keep the nuclear waste dump out. Reid, a former amateur boxer, told Guinn he was in the midst of a fight that reminded him of his days as a youth scrapping in a pool hall -- by Benjamin Grove, Las Vegas Sun
July 10, 2002 VENUE CHANGE: State pins last hopes on courts -- Elected officials confident they can prevail by exposing DOE flaws -- by Steve Tetreault, Las Vegas Review-Journal
July 10, 2002 -- Ensign's lobbying fails to garner votes WASHINGTON -- Nevada's election of a Republican senator seems to have made little difference in the fight against the Yucca Mountain Project. -- by Tony Batt, Las Vegas Review-Journal
July 10, 2002 -- THE YUCCA VOTE: Senate quotes -- Quotes from the July 9 Senate debate on Yucca Mountain -- Las Vegas Review-Journal
July 09, 2002 Congress OKs Nuclear Waste in Nevada -- (AP) -- WASHINGTON- The Senate voted Tuesday to entomb thousands of tons of radioactive waste inside Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert, rejecting the state's fervent protests and ending years of political debate over nuclear waste disposal.
July 09, 2002 -- YUCCA MOUNTAIN: Senate vote expected today Utah Republicans, Illinois Democrat come out in favor of dumping nuclear waste in Nevada -- WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration on Monday collared support for the Yucca Mountain Project from Utah's wavering senators, dealing a severe blow to Nevada leaders as they brace for today's anticipated showdown on the nuclear waste repository. Republicans Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett said they would vote to override Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn's veto of the Yucca Mountain Project -- by Steve Tetreault, Las Vegas Review-Journal (Related Story - Utah senators agree to back Yucca Mountain plan in deal with White House)
July 09, 2002 -- Senate nears decision today on Yucca Mountain -- AP - Over the objections of Democratic leaders, Senate Republicans on Tuesday moved to force a vote on a proposal to send thousands of tons of nuclear waste for burial in the Nevada desert. Democrats immediately objected, setting up a pair of votes later in the day on whether to consider and approve a resolution overriding Nevada's veto of the proposed waste site at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
July 08, 2002 -- Vote cast on dump was ploy, some say GOP congressman changed position on Yucca Mountain -- WASHINGTON -- In May, 13 of 222 Republicans in the House voted against siting a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. One of the 13 votes came from Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the chief campaign fund-raiser for House Republicans - By TONY BATT, Sephens Washington Bureau
July 07, 2002 -- Vegas rally calls on Senate to reject Nevada nuclear waste dump --LAS VEGAS (AP) - Opponents of a proposed national nuclear waste repository in Nevada rallied here on Sunday, highlighting what they call fatal flaws in the plan and calling for the U.S. Senate to reject it in a crucial vote that could come this week. We all know this is not a science issue," Paul Brown, southern Nevada director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said from the sun-drenched outdoor podium at the Clark County Government Center. (More Coverage)
July 01, 2002 -- Daschle, Reid man phones to solicit 'no' votes -- WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and his top deputy, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., will make phone calls to their Democratic colleagues this week in a final-hour effort to secure "no" votes on Yucca Mountain, Daschle said. Congress is taking a week-long holiday break, but lawmakers are expected to take action on the nuclear waste project when they return next week -- Las Vegas Sun
June 28, 2002 -- Defense spending bill includes Yucca funds -- WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Thursday approved a bill that maps out a defense spending policy for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 that includes money for Yucca Mountain - Las Vegas Sun
June 26, 2002 -- YUCCA MOUNTAIN BATTLE: GOP pushes Daschle for Senate vote Showdown over nuclear waste dump expected soon -- WASHINGTON -- Republican senators increased pressure Tuesday on Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. to schedule votes on the Yucca Mountain Project -- By Steve Tetreault Stephens, Washington Bureau
June 21, 2002 -- Reid seeks to cut budget for dump -- Defense bill in Senate chops request for Yucca Mountain by $100 million -- WASHINGTON -- While Congress publicly debates the Yucca Mountain Project, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., quietly is trying once again to gut its budget. -- Las Vegas Review Journal
June 19, 2002 -- Senate Republicans call on Daschle to open Yucca debate WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate began to sharpen its focus on Yucca Mountain on Tuesday as supporters of the proposed nuclear waste repository initiated a strategy that soon will lead to a showdown with Nevada's senators over the project -- Las Vegas Review Journal
June 18, 2002 -- Senator sees easy Yucca approval WASHINGTON -- A leading Senate advocate for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain today predicted the project would pass relatively easily with 58 to 62 senators voting for it. But Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said a procedural vote that would determine whether to hold a final vote on the proposed repository in Nevada should pass, but by a narrower margin -- Las Vegas Sun
June 14, 2002 -- NRC official talks of options if Yucca dies in Congress -- WASHINGTON -- If the U.S. Senate were to kill the Yucca Mountain Project, nuclear waste could remain safely stored at power plants for the "decades" it would take to find a replacement repository, according to the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- Las Vegas Review Journal
June 13, 2002 -- Ensign urges colleagues to block Yucca vote -- WASHINGTON -- With his battle to persuade Republican senators to oppose Yucca Mountain all but lost, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., has shifted strategies and is now trying to rally them behind an effort to block a Yucca vote from happening at all. -- Las Vegas Sun
June 07, 2002 -- Yucca fight in Senate looking grim -- Reid, Ensign still lobbying for votes -- WASHINGTON -- Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign are not throwing in the towel in their effort in the Senate to kill making Yucca Mountain a nuclear waste repository, despite signs this week that at least 51 senators intend to vote for the project -- Las Vegas Sun
June 06, 2002 -- Reid, Ensign doubt they can stop Yucca if Senate votes on it -- WASHINGTON (AP) - After a defeat on a key committee vote, Nevada's two senators acknowledged Wednesday there's little chance of stopping the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project if it comes up for a direct vote in the Senate
June 06, 2002 -- Senate (committee) panel passes Yucca -- WASHINGTON -- A key Senate panel approved Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository today, leaving one final congressional hurdle for the project: the full Senate. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the controversial plan, 13-10, sending the measure to the full Senate for a vote by the end of July - Las Vegas Sun (Related Information - Summary of Testimony at the Congressional hearing)
June 05, 2002 -- County officials head to D.C. for YMP vote -- Override of governor's veto expected to be voted out of Senate committee this morning -- and Nye County Commission Chairman Jeff Taguchi plans to be there -- Pharump Valley Times
Legislative News Archive - 2000 - 2001 - 2002