Yucca funding mystery solved
Trump’s budget director says $120M addition his idea
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.