Battle Mountain Bugle

March 21, 2002

Ensign promises all out battle against Yucca

Says Feds can't help with school budget shortfalls

By Gary Begin
Humboldt Sun Editor
Dave Woodson
Bugle Editor

Nevada's junior U.S. Senator John Ensign said Thursday he feels the state's fight to stop the federal government from using Yucca Mountain near Las Vegas as a nuclear waste repository is "far from over."

Ensign promised "an all out battle mode" by the Nevada delegation against the dumping of high-level nuclear waste at the Nevada site.

He said he is meeting on a daily basis with his counterpart, Senator Harry Reid, to orchestrate a strategy to defeat the Yucca Mountain site in Congress.

Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn has vowed to veto Yucca Mountain and promised that he would send the issue to the US. Congress.

Ensign noted that there does appear to be the votes in the Senate to keep the project from going ahead, but that the two senators believe they have a much better chance in the House.

However, Ensign noted there is still an opportunity to block the Yucca Mountain selection in the Senate because of the opposition of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Dem.-S.D.

Ensign said if Daschle can keep the bill from reaching the Senate floor that it could die during the current session of Congress.

While the fight in Congress over Yucca Mountain continues, Guinn also plans to take the state's case against the nuclear waste dump into the federal courts.

Guinn has been compiling a war chest for litigation against the site.

Both the senators and the governor have charged that the decision to locate the dump at Yucca Mountain was based on politics and not sound scientific evidence.

When the decision was announced by the Bush administration, Reid accused President George W. Bush of going back on a campaign promise and labeled the President a "liar."

Guinn contends that the decision was made before most of the scientific studies had been completed.

Ensign, in a 20-minute phone news conference with half a dozen Nevada reporters, also said malpractice lawsuits should be subjected to capping of jury awards and to tort reform much in the way California has done.

"I have a friend in Las Vegas who spent $175,000 on malpractice insurance last year. She moved to Southern California where the population base is similar and the cost of her insurance there was $17,000," he said.

Ensign said he's heard from the nursing home industry about the high cost of insurance saying it was "outrageously expensive to get liability insurance."

"A couple of malpractice cases will blow the lid off of rates in the area," he said, calling for the state and/or the federal government to step in with controls.

A bill before the House about Indian land claims, Ensign said, will not affect the rights of Native Americans in a negative way despite rumors to the contrary being circulated by some Indian groups and individuals opposed to the Reid/Ensign bill.

Ensign said northern Nevada's Congressman Jim Gibbons also has a similar bill and said he expected the bill(s) to pass.

Ensign said the decline in northern Nevada population hurting school system revenues due to "zero growth or negative growth is playing havoc on budgets," but said most of the school funding comes from state coffers.

He mentioned a bill in Congress which will bring $10 million into Nevada for schools, but it is uncertain how much of that money is earmarked for rural counties hard hit by mine closures and the subsequent exodus of workers and their children.

Regarding environmental issues brought to the Senate floor by California's Sen. Barbara Boxer, Ensign said he was against designating the Carson River on the Nevada side as a "Wild and Scenic River."

In closing, Ensign said the Homeland Security Office would be channeling money "mostly to local levels - local governments."

Ensign said the money is designed to "get them up to speed," and would be spent on preparedness and preparation "against domestic terrorism."