House lawmakers to visit Yucca Mountain

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this month plan to visit Yucca Mountain, the location where most members of the panel want to build a national nuclear waste repository.

Details of the July 14 visit were still being finalized, according to the committee spokesman.

The visit comes after the House approved legislation in May to restart efforts to build the project, which had been kept dormant by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who retired at the end of his term in 2016.

The overwhelming House vote, 340-to-72, followed a similarly lopsided 49-to-4 vote by the panel last year.

Rep. John Shimkus, a Republican from Illinois, has led the charge to jumpstart the Yucca project. He is chairman of the committee’s Environment Subcommittee.

“We owe it to the 121 communities across 39 states (storing nuclear waste), as well as to every American taxpayer forced to shoulder the daily $2.2 million burden of inaction, to get this done,” Shimkus said in May.

But Yucca opponents, including most of Nevada’s congressional delegation, have argued that it’s too dangerous to transport nuclear waste.

“This proposal requires the construction of almost 300 miles of new railroad tracks to transport the waste, putting more than 123 million lives near the proposed routes at risk,” said Rep. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat, in a letter she wrote to appropriators earlier this year. “Such nuclear waste transportation directly threatens individuals living in nearly 330 Congressional Districts.”

Rosen is challenging Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, for his Senate seat and Yucca has become an issue in the campaign with the renewed interest in building the repository, including President Donald Trump putting Yucca funding in his annual budget proposals.

But with Heller’s race expected to be decided by a slim margin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unlikely to put Shimkus’ bill on the Senate floor as he looks to protect Heller and his slim Republican majority.