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Wednesday, July 24, 2002
 

President signs Yucca Mountain resolution into law

State officials say now the legal battle begins

By TONY BATT
STEPHENS WASHINGTON BUREAU

WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Tuesday put the finishing touch on Yucca Mountain's designation for nuclear waste burial.

Bush signed into law the resolution that overturns Nevada's veto and finalizes the Yucca site for a waste repository. The signing occurred at a short ceremony open only to a handful of allies who helped pass the bill through Congress.

The bill-signing marked the official end of Nevada's legislative fight, which effectively was over when the Senate voted 60-39 on July 9 for the Nevada repository.

State officials said it also marked a beginning of the state's stepped up legal efforts against the Yucca Mountain Project. Gov. Kenny Guinn issued a statement saying the president's signing did little more than end the political process on Yucca Mountain.

"I have always believed that our best chance in defeating Yucca Mountain is in the federal courts, where impartial judges will hear the factual and scientific arguments as to why Yucca Mountain is not a safe place to store this nation's high-level nuclear waste," Guinn said.

Bush signed the legislation at the White House in a 10-15 minute morning event closed to reporters. White House officials said the vast majority of bills signed by the president are not open to the public because of staffing required for public events.

Attendees included Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Teamsters President James P. Hoffa and a handful of Republicans who played key roles in steering the legislation through Congress. Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho and Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, were among those present.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, were invited but it could not be learned whether they attended.

The attending officials received blue pens Bush used to sign the legislation.

The signing occurred almost 27 months to the day after President Clinton, on April 25, 2000, vetoed a bill to speed nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain.

"The president was pleased today to sign (the Yucca Mountain legislation)," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "It will allow us, after a decade of scientific study, to take the next step in establishing a safe repository in which to store our nation's nuclear waste."

Following a recommendation by Abraham, the president approved Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository in February. Two months later, Guinn vetoed the president's decision. The House voted to override Guinn's decision in May and the Senate voted the same way earlier this month.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., scoffed at the claim that the president's decision was based on sound science.

"If that's based on sound science, I can high jump eight feet," Reid said.

Reid predicted nuclear waste never will be transported to Yucca Mountain.

"In fact, if they ever do it, I would be amazed," Reid said.

Reid said he is scheduled to receive a briefing next week on Nevada's lawsuits against the project. He has said he would use his senior position on the Senate Appropriations Committees to stall the development of a Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

"We're just going to try to be deliberate; make sure they don't get more money than they need," Reid said.

Reid also is chairman of the Senate environment subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which will be responsible for licensing the Yucca Mountain Project.

Now that the Senate has voted to override Guinn's veto, Reid said he plans to take a more aggressive approach in his oversight of the NRC.

"I didn't want to do anything that would cause me to lose any votes, and so I've been very cautious," Reid said.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said he will support Reid's efforts to restrict appropriations bills for the nuclear waste repository.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., described Bush's signing of the Yucca Mountain bill as dereliction of duty.

"Rather than being pleased, the president should be ashamed of himself," Berkley said. "Either he is totally disengaged on this issue or he just doesn't get it."

Berkley predicted supporters of the nuclear waste repository will attempt to win approval of interim storage at Yucca Mountain.

"Mark my words, that is the next step. The storage will be above ground and dangerous," Berkley said.

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., declined an interview request, but issued a statement saying he was disappointed with the president's signing.

 


This story is located at:
http://www.lvrj.com/lvrj_home/2002/Jul-24-Wed-2002/news/19254712.html