Nuclear Waste Bills Stalled in Congress


Despite intense pressure from nuclear industry lobbyists and a well funded media and public relations campaign aimed at senators and congressmen, two pieces of legislation that would authorize DOE to construct an interim spent nuclear fuel storage facility at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) remain stalled in Congress as legislators look towards summer recesses and the upcoming election. Both bills would also relax radiation exposure standards for Yucca Mountain and an interim storage facility and exempt DOE from most state and local laws and regulations. HR1020, introduced more than a year ago by Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Edolphus

Towns (D-NY) would permit locating an interim storage site in Nevada and require DOE to begin taking spent fuel at the site by January, 1998. HR1020 ran into almost immediate problems in the House because its $4 billion over 4 years price tag exceeds congressional budget caps. The bill is not scheduled for action by the House and Speaker Gingrich has pronounced the bill Ďdeadí for the current session.

In the Senate, a similar measure to HR1020 was introduced last Fall by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID). S1271 also permits construction of an interim storage facility at NTS, but extends the deadline for the facility to begin accepting spent fuel to January, 1999. S1271 would also establish an intermodal (rail to truck) transfer facility at Caliente, Nevada for moving waste from railroad cars to the site by heavy haul truck. S1271 was passed out of the Senate Energy Committee on a vote that was almost completely along party lines (with Sen. Johnston, D-LA, the only democrat voting for it). S1271, like its House counterpart, also has problems because of its high cost and budget busting potential.

Nevada senators Harry Reid and Richard Bryan have vowed to organize a filibuster if the measure reaches the Senate floor. President Clinton, objecting to naming an interim site before a repository location has been determined and to provisions in the bill that would weaken radiation exposure limits, has promised to veto the bill should it reach his desk.

Prior to his departure as Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Robert Dole indicated that he would not schedule S1271 for floor action unless the billís supporters could demonstrate that they had the votes to cut off the promised filibuster and override a veto. The Presidentís steadfast and unequivocal promise to veto interim storage [legislation], ... has changed the dynamics for us, noted Senator Bryan. The climb is not as difficult to get 34 votes [to sustain a veto] as opposed to 51 votes [to defeat a bill].

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