Yucca fund­ing mys­tery solved

Trump’s bud­get di­rec­tor says $120M ad­di­tion his idea

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - MORNING BRIEFING - By De­bra J. Saun­ders Re­view-journal White House Cor­re­spon­dent

WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s top bud­get man, Mick Mul­vaney, solved a mys­tery Tues­day. Asked who put $120 mil­lion into Trump’s spend­ing plan to restart li­cens­ing for a Yucca Moun­tain nu­clear waste repos­i­tory and other in­terim stor­age, Mul­vaney said he did.

“Whose idea was to put it in there?” the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get di­rec­tor replied. “I wrote the bud­get and I am very in­ter­ested in see­ing that is­sue ex­plored fur­ther. We have to put this stuff some­place. So the $120 mil­lion you saw, it was ac­tu­ally very mi­nor. I’m sur­prised it got that much at­ten­tion as it did. It’s only to ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity of li­cens­ing.”

As a rule, Trump’s po­si­tions on is­sues have been aired out in the open, of­ten ex­haus­tively — dur­ing 2016 cam­paign ap­pear­ances or on Twit­ter. Yucca Moun­tain is the ex­cep­tion.

As the GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee stump­ing in Las Ve­gas in Oc­to­ber 2016, Trump was asked where he stood on the con­tro­ver­sial project lo­cated some 90 miles north­west of the city.

“I’m very friendly with this area,” Trump re­sponded. “I have a ho­tel here. I will tell you I’m go­ing to take a look at it be­cause so many peo­ple here are talk­ing about it. I’ll take a look at it, and the next time you in­ter­view me, I’ll have an an­swer.”

Then Trump failed to pro­duce an an­swer be­fore Ne­vadans went to the polls.

Washington had spent $12 bil­lion on the Yucca project be­fore Pres­i­dent Barack Obama pulled the plug on it in a move widely seen as a fa­vor to then-se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid.

To­day the state’s three top law­mak­ers — GOP Gov. Brian San­doval, GOP Sen. Dean Heller and Demo­cratic Sen. Cather­ine Cortez-masto — op­pose the project.

Since Trump hadn’t taken a stand on Yucca in 2016, the repos­i­tory ap­peared dead.

Then in March, the Trump White House re­leased its “skinny” bud­get, or spend­ing frame­work. The “skinny” bud­get cut De­part­ment of En­ergy spend­ing by 5.8 per­cent, even as it added $120 mil­lion for Yucca and other in­terim nu­clear waste stor­age.

Did Mul­vaney dis­cuss Yucca Moun­tain with Trump be­fore putting the $120 mil­lion in the OMB spend­ing plan?

“I don’t re­mem­ber if we talked to the pres­i­dent about it, if that rose to the level,” the OMB chief re­sponded. “I know that we talked to (En­ergy) Sec­re­tary (Rick) Perry.”

But what about Ne­vada in 2020 — the state Hil­lary Clin­ton won af­ter op­pos­ing Yucca?

UNLV po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor John Tu­man said that if Trump runs in 2020, “he has paths to re-elec­tion that don’t in­volve Ne­vada.”

If there is a po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tion for Trump, Tu­man said, it could be a con­sid­er­a­tion of how the is­sue could af­fect Heller, whose vote could be key in pass­ing the Trump agenda.

Dan Sch­in­hofen, chair­man of Nye County Com­mis­sion, which sup­ports the Yucca Moun­tain project, ac­knowl­edged that he usu­ally knows why Trump has taken a po­si­tion be­cause the pres­i­dent lays bare his think­ing on Twit­ter.

Yucca Moun­tain is the rare con­tro­versy where Trump has been re­luc­tant to pro­claim his opinion.

Still, Sch­in­hofen said, “I don’t see the mys­tery here. The guy he’s ap­pointed to the De­part­ment of En­ergy (Perry) has moved for­ward.”

He has a point. Af­ter all, the

$120 mil­lion is in the bud­get.

Con­tact De­bra J. Saun­ders at dsaun­ders@re­viewjour­nal. com or 202-662-7391. Fol­low @ De­bra­jsaun­ders on Twit­ter.

Mick Mul­vaney

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