Committee rejects $200M Yucca proposal

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved three more fiscal 2011 spending bills Thursday, including the $34.97 billion Energy and Water Appropriations measure after rejecting an amendment from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., that would continue funding for Nevada's Yucca Mountain planned nuclear waste repository.

The bills, which also include the $67.9 billion Transportation-HUD and $60.1 billion Commerce-Justice-Science measures, were approved en bloc on a party-line 17-12 vote.

Republican appropriators have opposed spending bills since last week's committee decision not to consider their proposal to cap fiscal 2011 discretionary funding at $1.108 trillion, less than the $1.121 trillion Democrats had proposed.

The committee instead agreed to a $1.114 trillion discretionary spending limit, also on a party-line vote. To date, the panel has approved six of the 12 annual spending bills.

Murray's amendment to the Energy and Water bill would have provided $200 million to continue the licensing for the Yucca Mountain project.

The proposal put her at odds with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. D-Nev., and President Obama, both of whom have pushed to close the Yucca site. Obama's fiscal 2011 budget provided no funding for the project and neither does the Senate bill.

Last month, the three administrative judges of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board denied the Energy Department's motion to withdraw the license application of the Nevada site, saying no evidence has been presented that the application is flawed or the site unsafe.

"We've spent over $10 billion on Yucca Mountain, and we know the courts will decide how this moves forward, but in the meantime I believe we should continue funding this important program," Murray said.

Yucca Mountain has also become a campaign issue for Murray, who is in a tough re-election battle against Republican Dino Rossi. Earlier this week, Rossi accused her of not being aggressive enough to keep the repository project going.

Washington State has the Energy Department's 586-square-mile Hanford Site, home to nine former nuclear reactors and their associated processing facilities that were built beginning in 1943. The site's works have generated billions of gallons of liquid waste and millions of tons of solid waste which must now be cleaned up, removed or remediated.

"Without a national repository Hanford and other nuclear waste sites will be left in limbo," Murray said.

Murray's amendment was defeated 13-16, with all Republicans supporting the amendment except for Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Bob Bennett, R-Utah. Along with Murray, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., were the only two Democrats to vote for the amendment.

Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., opposed the Murray amendment and argued that the $200 million would do nothing to "restart" the project. He said the committee should wait for the deliberations of the federal blue-ribbon panel that will develop recommendations for managing the nation's nuclear waste.

Bennett agreed, and observed that all current U.S. nuclear waste would fill up the Yucca Mountain repository, so a new plan would have to be developed whether the project is funded or not.

The $34.97 billion Energy and Water spending bill is $376.3 million below the president's budget request and $1.503 billion above the fiscal 2010 level. The Senate bill would provide slightly more than the $34.67 billion House measure.

The committee also approved the Transportation-HUD and Commerce-Justice-Science bills, without major changes to the measures approved by the subcommittees.

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