Editorial: Still time to negotiate on Yucca Mountain

Tunnel inside Yucca Mountain (Energy Department pix)

The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly, 340-72, this past week to restart the licensing process to make Yucca Mountain in Nye County the nation’s permanent repository of nuclear waste. H.R. 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, also ups the ante, increasing the storage cap from 70 metric tons of highly radioactive material to 110,000 metric tons — a 57 percent increase.

All four of Nevada’s representatives voted nay, even Northern Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei, a Republican who in the past has held out for negotiations that might provide some benefits for Nevada.

Amodei issued a press release explaining that he voted against the bill after the House Rules Committee rejected an amendment he had proposed.

“Since I was elected to Congress, I have always said I do not believe Yucca Mountain should be a simple dumping site for our nation’s nuclear waste,” Amodei said. “Additionally, I have always been cognizant that policy makers should not consider Yucca Mountain to be a ‘dead’ issue, meaning Nevada’s congressional delegation should use this opportunity to dictate the terms of the repository under the best conditions for our state. That’s exactly what I chose to do this week by offering an amendment to H.R. 3053 that would have given Nevada a seat at the table to expand upon the mission of the repository.”

His amendment would have directed that the state’s higher eduction system would head up nuclear research and development, designated proper routes for transportation, cleaned up contaminated facilities in Nevada and required the Department of Energy to locate reprocessing facilities at Yucca Mountain instead of just burying the waste. He said reprocessing could create thousands of jobs and recycle spent fuel for further energy production.

Nevada’s Democratic representatives were all in over-my-dead-body mode.

“I have fought the misguided and dangerous Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump project for my entire career and I’m not giving up,” said Rep. Dina Titus. “This legislation is fundamentally flawed and going nowhere in the Senate.”

Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is running for Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s seat in the upper chamber, called permanent storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain a “reckless and ill-conceived plan that could put communities across the country in danger, jeopardize our military testing and training, waste billions more in taxpayer dollars, and harm Nevada’s tourism industry.”Though 119 Democrats voted for the bill and only 67 against, Rosen blamed the Republican-controlled Congress.

Lame duck Rep. Ruben Kihuen lamented, “I am disappointed that Congress has once again chosen to ignore the will of Nevadans and residents of Nevada’s Fourth Congressional District. 30 years have passed since Nevada was unfairly targeted by the ‘Screw Nevada’ bill and this new bill is nothing more than lipstick on a pig.”

Perhaps, Nevadans are not as knee-jerk opposed as some would have us believe.

Earlier this year, in an op-ed penned for the Reno newspaper, Dan Schinhofen, vice chairman of the Nye County Commission, noted that a poll taken by that newspaper showed 29.3 percent of respondents believed the project, if it included reprocessing, would be good for the economy, while 17.7 percent said Yucca Mountain would be OK if the state cuts a good deal, and 6.4 percent said Nevada should do it for national security — 53.4 percent open to discussion, as opposed to 43.4 percent who said the state should just fight the project.

Schinhofen wrote, “It is time to stop the unfounded fearmongering just to delay this multigenerational, multibillion-dollar project. Many, if not most, Nevadans want to have an honest discussion about Yucca Mountain, and the state’s politicians and opinion writers should start to listen.”

In a recent online article, retired Air Force Col. Bob Frank, chairman and co-founder of Nevadans CAN (Citizen Action Network), noted that recent breakthroughs in technology make it possible to safely and efficiently recycle spent nuclear fuel.

“The advanced reactors no longer require huge volumes of circulating external water to cool them,” Frank writes. “They can be independently installed anywhere in remote or populated areas where power is needed. They can produce uninterruptible power for 24/7/365 at varying levels for up to 30 years without needing more recycled fuel.”

He argues that Nevada has been an international pioneer in nuclear technology and could continue to lead the nation. Explore the possibilities instead of throwing a futile tantrum.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

 

Newspaper column: Nevada politicians balk at Trump’s budget

The Obama administration managed to increase the national debt from $10.6 trillion in 2009 to nearly $20 trillion in 2016, meaning the cost of serving that debt has doubled and will rise as interest rates rise.

But when President Trump proposes a budget that would cut spending by $4.23 trillion over the next decade there is wailing and gnashing of teeth — including from the majority of Nevada politicians.

Much of the lamenting is over the budget’s proposal to carry out the House-passed modest rollback of Obamacare, specifically rolling back Medicaid eligibility. Previously, Medicaid covered low-income children, pregnant women and disabled, but largely excluded other low-income adults. Obamacare allowed just about anyone earning below 138 percent of the poverty level to become eligible.

Nevada was one of the 31 states to expand Medicaid eligibility since the federal government promised to initially pick up 100 percent of the increased cost and 90 percent in later years.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has said he intends to protect Medicaid funding “at all cost” — meaning your cost. The expansion has added 220,000 Nevadans to Medicaid.

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller also said he is concerned about the budget’s cuts to Medicaid and its affect on Nevadans now covered by it.

Freshman Nevada U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto joined other senators in signing a letter to Trump bemoaning the proposed Medicaid cuts. She noted that more than 18,000 veterans in Nevada are covered by Medicaid. How many were previously covered or still would be after a rollback was not stated.

“Your proposed cuts to Medicaid and your efforts to take away people’s health coverage are inconsistent with the promises you made to America’s veterans. They deserve better,” the letter states.

Spending as well as cuts are drawing fire.

There is that $120 million in Trump’s budget to restart the licensing process for Yucca Mountain to become a nuclear waste storage site, a measure apparently opposed by a majority of state politicians.

This prompted Heller to say, “From slashing funding for important public lands programs to its renewed effort to revive the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, the President’s budget request contains several anti-Nevada provisions. While Congress ultimately has the power of the purse, I will continue to stand up for Nevada’s priorities by defending our important public lands programs and fighting any effort to turn Nevada into the nation’s nuclear waste dump. Yucca Mountain is dead …”

Rep. Dina Titus of Clark County fired off this missive: “President Trump wants to fund a revival of the failed Yucca Mountain boondoggle that will ultimately cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. Just as his budget overlooks the needs of the America people, Trump’s Yucca Mountain line item ignores the majority of Nevadans who don’t want this dangerous project rammed down their throats.”

On the other hand, Nye County Commission Chairman Dan Schinhofen sent out a statement saying, “I am pleased that the just published fiscal 2018 budget submitted by President Donald Trump includes funding that will continue the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain Waste Repository in Nye County. The promise of a safe and secure site for nuclear waste has been promised to the nation for more than three decades.”

Time to negotiate for benefits?

Then there is the plan in the budget to save $10 million a year by finally following the provisions of the original 1970s act to protect wild horses by allowing excess animals to be sold for slaughter instead of being warehoused at taxpayer expense.

The wild horse management budget has doubled under Obama to more than $80 million a year. The usual suspects decry this trim.

Few seem willing to throttle back on the government largesse, even though the economy has picked up a bit since the depths of the recession and unemployment has fallen from October 2009’s 10 percent peak to 4.7 percent.

Trump’s budget proposes to cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid over the next decade, and trim $192 billion from nutritional assistance and $272 billion over all from welfare programs — all of which have increased in recent years.

Medicaid enrollment has grown by 47 percent since 2006 and spending by 75 percent — to $554 billion in 2015. Food stamp recipients have increased by 11 million.

Trump’s budget is 55 percent larger than 2007’s, though inflation has been 20 percent.

As Ronald Reagan once remarked, “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!”

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Yucca Mountain (CBS pix)

 

Editorial: Let local governments opt out of collective bargaining

While it seems most of the legislation coursing through the halls of the Legislature in Carson City seeks to tap deeper into taxpayers’ wallets, one might actually reduce the cost of local government by allowing local counties, cities and school boards to end collective bargaining with public employee unions.

Assembly Bill 280, sponsored by Assemblyman Erven Nelson, a Las Vegas Republican, authorizes local governments to choose not to negotiate with an employee union and ends the requirement for binding arbitration that has proven so costly to many local governments and school districts.

Nelson testified recently about his bill, saying it will allow elected officials to regain control over the cost of government by allowing them to set the rate of salaries and benefits during public meetings in front of the taxpayers, instead of in secret negotiations. He noted this is how the state government works, because it does not allow its employees to unionize.

If a local government does agree to collective bargaining, AB280 would not allow any pay or benefit increases after a contract expires and before a new agreement is finalized.

Erven Nelson

Nelson pointed out that during the recent recession a number of government employees lost their jobs and services to taxpayers were cut because unions would not agree to reductions in pay and benefits. He added union requirements that layoffs be based on seniority instead of merit often resulted in better and lower paid employees being laid off.

“By providing another alternative to the governing body, jobs can be saved and services to the public can be retained,” Nelson testified.

“We should not be talking about raising taxes so long as government employees make more than the taxpayers who fund their salaries.” Nelson continued. “Government spending would fall by approximately $300 per resident if Nevada makes collective bargaining optional for local government employees and if they implement those changes. Limiting collective bargaining has worked well for Wisconsin. The state closed its budget deficit and realized enough savings to cut taxes as well.”

Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen also testified in favor of the bill, saying his county has 400 public employee union members whose salaries and benefits have become unsustainable. “In the past 10 years, the county’s assessed valuation has declined by nearly $600 million and the opportunity to generate revenue from other sources have been either insignificant or not available to us,” Schinhofen said. Today total employee compensation consumes 80 percent of the county budget.

He said AB280 would allow the county to regain control of its spending on services for its 48,000 residents.

Former Storey County Commissioner Greg “Bum” Hess argued that in small counties with volatile revenue streams the governing body needs flexibility to set public employee pay rather than be bound by a collective bargaining contract.

“This bill, as you know, would not outlaw collective bargaining; it would merely empower each local government body to choose for itself whether or not to engage in the collective-bargaining process,” testified Nevada Policy Research Institute President Andy Matthews. “This is important because it would give citizens a much stronger voice in how local fiscal affairs are conducted. If the residents of Elko or Reno or Las Vegas think that their local government employees ought to be able to negotiate under collective bargaining laws, then they can vote to elect officials who will implement that policy. Residents who feel otherwise can vote for candidates who pledge to do the opposite.”

Of course, a number of public employee union representatives testified against the bill, saying it would make it more difficult for local governments to recruit quality employees. They also said unions have been willing to reopen contracts and negotiate pay reductions.

What is being proposed for the cities, counties and school boards currently works for the state, which is able to hire suitable employees at a pay scale with which both employer and employee agree.

We fully support and call for passage of AB280 to allow local governments to take control of their budgets for the benefit of taxpayers and not be forced to cede control of budgets to out-of-state arbitrators who don’t have to live with the result of their decisions.

A version of this editorial appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record.