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On Yucca Mountain, Obama Again Treats Law as Merely a Suggestion

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., delivered a rousing speech on the House floor earlier this month reminding the American people that, in Congress, “We don’t pass suggestions … we don’t pass ideas — we pass laws. And we expect them to be faithfully executed.”

While many are aware of the administration’s legally suspect Obamacare delays and go-it-alone attitude toward immigration, climate and a host of other policies — few realize President Barack Obama has also actively subverted the 30-year-old Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the law governing the development of a safe repository for our nation’s nuclear waste, and he wants to stick taxpayers with the bill.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act states that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission “shall” consider Yucca Mountain as our nation’s permanent geologic repository for high-level nuclear waste and that the commission “shall” approve or disapprove the Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain application no less than three years after its submission. “Shall” is not a suggestion.

So last August, a federal appeals court had to remind the administration that “the president may not decline to follow a statutory mandate or prohibition simply because of policy objections.” The court further scolded the scofflaw administration, noting that “it is no overstatement to say that our constitutional system of separation of powers would be significantly altered if we were to allow executive and independent agencies to disregard federal law in the manner asserted in this case by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

Since then, Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz and all five NRC commissioners have testified before my Environment and the Economy Subcommittee that they would comply with the court’s decision and follow the law. To fully do so, however, would require both the Energy Department and the NRC to request the funding necessary to complete the licensing process and reach a final decision. Their failure to do so disregards the law as affirmed by the court.

More recently, that same court ruled that the Department of Energy must stop collecting fees from ratepayers because the department’s “not-Yucca” “… strategy is based on assumptions directly contrary to law,” and that “it seems quite unfair to force petitioners to pay fees for a hypothetical option.” However, the Energy Department has requested that the taxpayers fund the administration’s decision to do something other than follow the law. If the court took such a dim view of the department’s actions that electricity consumers shouldn’t have to pay for them, why should taxpayers?

Tenuous as they are, whatever scientific concerns still linger about the safety of permanently storing nuclear waste on secure federal land in a remote desert under a mountain would be put to rest by the completion of NRC’s Safety Evaluation Report. Volume 3 of this report will provide the NRC’s independent, scientific evaluation of whether Yucca Mountain will be safe for a million years.

After spending $15 billion dollars studying this question, the public has a right to know the answer. If the answer is yes — as I believe it is after reviewing NRC documents — the NRC and the Energy Department have neither a legal nor a scientific reason to delay Yucca more than they already have. Three decades of delays have amassed more than 70,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel at more than 121 locations across more than 30 states. The American people deserve the central repository they’ve paid for, not more excuses for dodging the law.

Rep. John Shimkus is an Illinois Republican and chairman of the House Energy Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.

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