The Nevada Appeal

OPINION

It's Nevada vs. Washington over Yucca Mountain

By Guy W. Farmer

Sunday, April 14, 2002

I was proud to be a Nevadan last Monday when Gov. Kenny Guinn vetoed President Bush's approval of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Southern Nevada. Like the governor and our congressional delegation, I'd rather fight than switch, unlike a few of our fellow Nevadans who are willing to sell out their children and grandchildren to the nuclear power industry in exchange for federal handouts.

This was an historic moment because it was the first time in U.S. history the governor of a state had vetoed a presidential decision. Congress had. authorized the state's veto power over the nuclear project in 1982, five years before passing the so-called "Screw Nevada" bill, which designated Yucca Mountain as the only site to be studied as the future repository for more than 77,000 tons of deadly radioactive waste. Congress must sustain or overturn Gov. Guinn's veto within 90 legislative days on simple majority votes in both houses. A final vote is expected by late July.

"The battle is not over," Gov. Guinn told an enthusiastic audience at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, just 90 miles from the proposed dump site. "In fact, we are just beginning to fight." Following his speech, the governor took off for Washington, D.C., where he spent the rest of the week in an uphill lobbying effort against the fatally flawed project. Uphill because the power brokers in our nation's insular capital couldn't care less about a life-and-death issue facing a small western state.

For example, as Gov. Guinn arrived in Washington, NBC's "Today" show questioned Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham about the rising cost of gasoline, but the interviewer failed to ask a single question about the nuclear dump project. And while the broadcast networks :gnored Guinn and Yucca Mountain, Sen. John Ensign, R. Nev., defended Nevada in an effective appearance on CNN's "Crossfire" last Tuesday.

State Engineer Hugh Ricci did his part on Wednesday by shutting off water to the controversial project.

According to the way the political game is played in Washington, both sides of the nuclear waste battle must hire very expensive (translation: overpaid) consultants to get the attention of our national decision-makers in Congress. The project's proponents have hired former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, a Republican, and former Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, while our hired guns are two more ex-chiefs of staff, Democrat John Podesta and Republican Ken Duberstein. All four consultants share one characteristic: they know virtually nothing about Nevada.

But that's the way it works in Washington, and that's the reality we must live with, which is why Gov. Guinn has asked all Nevadans to contribute to a fund to lobby against the project. The nuclear power industry has deep pockets and close ties to the Bush White House, and Podesta and Duberstein don't work cheap. The Nuclear Energy Institute which pays Sununu, Ferraro and ex-Gov. Bob List big bucks to trash Nevada, contributed nearly $14 million to both major parties (mostly to Republicans) during the 2000 election campaign.

Guinn and our congressional delegation estimate that Nevada will need at least $10 million to mount an effective national lobbying campaign against the project. Earlier this month, the State Board of Examiners authorized a $3 million emergency grant to the anti-dump campaign and the Legislature's Interim Finance Committee approved another $3 million last Wednesday. That's a good start, but much more is needed.

President Bush broke a 2000 election year campaign promise to Nevada Republicans by approving the Yucca Mountain dump site last month. Having promised to base his decision on "sound science," he proceeded to ignore scientific questions raised by General Accounting Office investigators and others including former Yucca Mountain Project Chief John Bartlett, who asserts that the mountain's geology fails to protect Nevada's air and groundwater from radioactive pollution.

As Gov. Guinn noted in last Monday's speech, no amount of money can compensate us for this potentially lethal threat to the health and safety of the people of Nevada.

Although more than 80 percent of Nevada residents oppose the Yucca Mountain Project, a few misguided Nevadans are willing to cave in and declare defeat. The latter include a Carson City retiree who told the Reno Gazette-Journal that "they've got to put it (the nuclear waste) somewhere but they should compensate us for thrusting the bloody thing in our lap." His attitude reminds me of those idiots who say that if rape is inevitable, just lie back and enjoy it.

But Yucca Mountain isn't inevitable and it's time for us to stand up and fight for our best interests. The key, as Guinn recognized, is to point out to 123 million Americans in more than 30 states the dangers of shipping highly radioactive nuclear waste "through their neighborhoods, alongside their schools, their rivers, their parks and their downtown areas." Reno and Las Vegas are among those communities.

So now, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and his deputy, Harry Reid, D-Nev., have an opportunity to deliver on their election year promise to defeat Yucca Mountain. Daschle is already waffling on his promise, however, and senators Reid and Ensign say they are 10 or 12 votes short of a majority in the Upper House.

Well, it's time for them to get to work on their fellow senators from states that will be endangered by nuclear waste shipments. Reid has already done yeoman work on this issue, but he needs to mobilize his many friends in the capital to oppose a project that jeopardizes the health and welfare of millions of Americans in Nevada and many other states. As Mills Lane would say (if he could), Let's get it on!

Guy w. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.