(Timothy Cama of The Hill) – Proponents of building a nuclear waste disposal site at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain are hoping that offering certain incentives to the state could convince its leaders to support the project.
While there are few specifics, lawmakers in Congress say that they’re willing to discuss with Nevadans whether new infrastructure, schools, water rights or money could bring Yucca closer to being the country’s first permanent repository for nuclear waste.
And some of Nevada’s officials are starting to listen to proposals that could help bring jobs, economic development, money or other benefits to the state.
But the state still overwhelmingly opposes the nuclear waste plan, with most of its leaders and representatives in Congress saying there’s no incentive that could make up for dumping nuclear waste in their backyard.
Incentives are becoming a more central part of the Yucca debate as supporters see more opportunity than they have had in decades to get the project, first proposed in the 1980s, moving forward.
While the Obama administration stopped work on the project in 2010, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has acted as a strong force against Yucca for years, lost his position as the Senate’s majority leader when Democrats lost power of the chamber in 2014. He has also announced that he’ll leave the Senate at the end of his term in early 2017.
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), one of Yucca’s most vocal supporters in the House and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Environment and Economy subpanel, has long been open to negotiating incentives, in addition to the funds that have already been paid locally to monitor the area.
“These funds allow those closest to the project to actively participate in the debate and continued study of the site,” Shimkus wrote in April in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“Beyond these established benefits, I’ve also personally offered to discuss additional benefits with state, local and tribal leaders — including financial, infrastructure, transportation and resource requests,” he said.
Some of the incentives that Nevadans might be open to would be building the proposed Interstate 11 between Las Vegas and Phoenix, getting more rights to the water in the Colorado River or establishing a nuclear research hub.
Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), another vocal Yucca backer, is also supportive of the idea.
Will Boyington, a spokesman for Newhouse, said the congressman “has expressed general support for potential accommodations for the state but would wait for a specific proposal to comment.”
Because of its ardent opposition to Yucca as a nuclear waste site, the state has historically not been open to an incentives plan. But that started to change in March, when freshman Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.) wrote in the Review-Journal that the state should be open to discussing benefits.
“What if Nevada were to receive a larger share of water rights from the Colorado River, or obtain greater leverage in our quest for better transportation and infrastructure funding across the state,” he wrote.
He also mentioned school funding and resources to create improve scientific research at the state’s university system.
Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno, said Hardy allowed a small amount of discussion in the state about Yucca that had not happened in decades.
“Hardy kind of opens a crack in the door, to where people are now at least talking about it, barely,” he said.
Most of Nevada’s leaders and representatives immediately shot back at Hardy and said that Yucca — benefits or no — is going nowhere in the state.
“When it comes to protecting the health and safety of Nevadans from a potential environmental catastrophe, there is no benefit worth bargaining for,” Reid said in a statement.
“The entire conversation is a non-starter,” said Caitlin Teare, a spokeswoman for Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.).
Kristen Orthman, a spokeswoman for Reid, similarly called the idea a “non-starter.”
Still, Herzik said there’s reason to be optimistic that Nevada is slightly warming to the idea of incentives.
“This is the first time you’ve had any kind of discussion about the possibility of benefits,” he said.
“It is something new,” Herzik said of Hardy’s opinion piece. “It’s very modest, but compared to where we were on this issue, it is a change.”
This article was originally published in The Hill on May 11, 2015.