The Nevada Appeal

States' rights at stake in Yucca battle

Nevada Appeal columnist

September 11, 2002

Congress has recently voted to send 77,000 tons of high-level (radioactive) nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain in Nevada for permanent storage. It did the bidding of the Department of Energy and President Bush, who in turn appear to serve at the whim of the nuclear energy industry.

Of note, of the 60 U.S. senators who voted for the dump, 45 have received an average of $50,585 a year between 1997 and 2002 from companies that operate nuclear power plants, nuclear trade groups and companies that develop nuclear technology (Las Vegas Sun).

There are varying opinions about this vote. Some Nevadans feel that this could provide an economic boondoggle, and that we must exploit the eventuality of becoming the nation's dump. Perhaps steep licensing and user fees could be levied against any state which dumps their waste here (this could run afoul of the Interstate Commerce Clause, however). Many new jobs could be created, especially in the security field, since Yucca Mountain would likely become a favorite target for terrorists, as would the routes taken in shipping the waste to Nevada. The economy could flourish, with working people spending more and pumping up sales tax revenues. Indeed, the short-term economic benefits could be fantastic.

However, sobering thoughts attend this economic excitement. Accurate and objective science took a back seat to political expediency. And several inequities took place in the process of "sticking it to Nevada."

At least five lawsuits have already been filed in federal courts, challenging the DOE's transparently political/inequitable push to send nuclear waste here. As columnist Guy Farmer noted, the decision was based solely on politics and mostly along partisan lines.

The inequities spin off from shabby statesman-ship. The two Utah U.S. senators have cut a deal with the Department of Energy to keep nuclear waste out of Utah. In exchange they have gladly voted to stick Nevada with the waste. Two Idaho senators joined up out of self-interest as well. Even some opponents of the dump cast votes against it only out of self interest (not wanting waste transported through their states) and without apparent concern for the larger questions of unconstitutionality and simple fairness. The morals of a Uriah Heap come to mind.

George W Bush's promise to Nevadans to base his decision on "sound science" (made in the election campaign of 2000) was not kept. In fact, several reputable entities have strongly questioned the Yucca Mountain Project, including the National Academy of Sciences. The Government Accounting Office, the support and research arm for Congress, found over 200 unresolved scientific concerns in the proposed project, both onsite and in potential transport routes. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has listed 293 unresolved scientific issues.

In addition to the lie about "sound science," which says the deposit of the nation's nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain is safe, there is the compelling question of "states' rights." Practically speaking, it isn't hard for the nuclear industry and its allies in government to force their will on Nevada, however illegal /immoral the act. After all, we are a small state with only four electoral votes, considered just a wasteland by many in the East. What can and must stop this bullying is the U.S. Constitution, which looks out for states, whether weak or strong. The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants broad powers to each state to regulate its own affairs. It reads: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." Among other things, each state must protect and defend the health, safety and welfare of its people. This is one reason that Gov. Guinn vetoed the nuclear waste repository.

For purposes of political expediency our federal government is violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The lawsuits being brought against the DOE, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, Secretary Abraham and President Bush must be joined by a challenge on grounds of unconstitutionality.

This is probably the most crucial challenge Nevada must bring. For it is the U.S. Constitution that must protect the rights and sovereignty of Nevada (or any other state), size or influence notwithstanding.

To help with legal/lobbying fees, please contribute to Gov. Guinn's "Nevada Protection Fund," 1802 N. Carson, Suite 252, Carson City 89701.

Susan Paslov is a retired attorney who teaches English as a Second Language.