Fed money comes in low

Yucca Mountain may be back, if Donald Trump gets his way.

Yucca Mountain may be back, if Donald Trump gets his way.


Donald Trump’s first budget recommendations help pay for a bigger military with lower expenditures for other promised programs.

His recommendations for infrastructure disappointed local officials across the nation, and his plan to revive Nevada’s Yucca Mountain also received limited funds.

Trump’s plan calls for $1.5 trillion in infrastructure projects, with just $200 billion supplied by the federal government.

It was widely assumed, including in conservative circles, that the program would force local governments to raise taxes. In the Unification Church publication Washington Times, economist Peter Morici wrote, President Trump’s infrastructure plan puts a heavy burden on the states and will require both private participation and new local taxes to succeed. At Breitbart News, author James Pinkerton penned an article under the headline “Fossil Fuels Can Pay for Trump’s Infrastructure Agenda without a Tax Increase.” However, it never says how—in fact, it says Trump has hinted he may support a gas tax hike.

Hopes that highway projects like a widening of Interstate 15 in Southern Nevada and the extension of a highway for the Tahoe Regional Industrial Center in Storey County could be undercut by the limited funds Trump proposes, unless Congress provides more. It could also make the Reno City Council’s approval of StoneGate, a community 15 miles north of Reno over the aging U.S. 395, look less promising.

Legislators say there is little appetite in the Nevada Legislature for a tax hike after major hikes in 2003 and 2017.

The Trump plan calls for partnerships between the public and private sector, and the Storey County TRIC highway project would likely be a prime candidate for the private sector to step in. TRIC hosts major corporations like Walmart, Barrick Goldstrike, PetsMart, Panasonic, Federal Express and Tesla.

After the Associated Press sent out a photograph of construction in Southern Nevada of the Mexico-to-Canada highway Interstate 11, Nevada appeared to be a symbol of infrastructure repair under what the AP caption claimed was Trump’s “sweeping plan to rebuild the nation’s depleted roads and bridges,” a description with which few local officials agreed. The photo appeared in dozens of newspapers.

Last month, Gov. Brian Sandoval said Trump “has an incredible opportunity to invigorate not just our approach to infrastructure spending, but also to the funding stream state and local governments rely on most: the Highway Trust Fund.”

When Trump signaled that he would probably propose a $200 billion federal contribution to infrastructure, the Center for American Progress responded, “President Trump’s vision for infrastructure involves deep cuts to core programs. The biggest and most harmful cut would be to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which provides funding for thousands of highway and public transportation projects each year. This money is the foundation upon which states and regions build their infrastructure programs.”

The Center predicted that the trust fund “will become insolvent at the end of FY 2020” and that Nevada would suffer job losses in five figures.

Nevada’s U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who signed a letter with other senators calling for infrastructure funding for broadband for rural areas, got her wish. Trump’s proposal included, “Eligible asset classes under the Rural Infrastructure Program would include … broadband (and other high speed data and communication conduits).” Whether he has in mind the funding level the senators want is not yet known.

Yucca Mountain

Trump’s proposal for Yucca Mountain has generated wide confusion. Many Nevada media entities reported Trump’s recommended $120 million allocation to bring the proposed dump for high level nuclear wastes back to life. But World Nuclear News reports that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission proposed only $50 million for the Nevada project. It is entirely possible that Congress will find the NRC more credible on the topic than Trump.

Relying on the $120 million figure, in Nye County, whose officials mostly support the dump, County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen told the Pahrump Valley Times, “It has now been 20 years since the federal government was mandated by law to start accepting nuclear waste for safe long-term storage in a deep geological repository. Not only is the repository not complete, but we haven’t been allowed to see if the proposed site, at Yucca Mountain, is even safe for its construction. All the president’s budget does is allow for the science to be heard on the safety of Yucca Mountain. It also follows the law.”

The Obama administration killed the Yucca dump by depriving it of funding.

“It’s criminal neglect that the last administration broke the law by not funding this project,” U.S. Rep. John Shimkus said to the Illinois News Network. “Now, our local communities like Zion are paying that price.”

Illinois has six nuclear power plants—Nevada has none—and 11 functioning reactors and gets 48 percent of its power from nuclear. Most Nevada political figures oppose the Yucca Mountain dump. Energy Secretary Rick Perry of Texas (four nuclear power plants) opposed the Nevada dump when he wanted Nevada’s support for his presidential campaign but now supports it.

In Las Vegas, Judy Treichel of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force wrote in the Las Vegas Sun, “Nailing Nevada with a Yucca Mountain dump simply because it was the only site that was selected for study is unsafe, unscientific and wrong.”

In Hanford, Washington, which was one of three candidate sites for the dump until Congress ended the competitive suitability studies and designated Nevada as the sole study site, the Columbian editorialized, “Considering that more than 160 million Americans reside within 75 miles of a nuclear waste site, a repository in a remote part of Nevada is a preferable alternative.”

In UNR’s Sagebrush, an editorial headlined “With new proposed Trump budget, Nevada can no longer ignore Yucca Mountain” was accompanied by a photo of 50-gallon metal drums scattered in a field and painted with yellow radiation symbols. The art is misleading. The kind of wastes that would be stored at Yucca Mountain are stored in on-site spent fuel pools at the plants that generate them. As for the headline, the state never ignored Yucca Mountain. It succeeded in slowing the project down to a crawl, prevented it from opening on time in 1998 and just renewed its $5 million contract with the legal team that represents the state on the issue.

Trump has also suggested he may renew nuclear testing in Nevada to rattle North Korea, prompting Treichel to respond, “To reopen the Nevada Test Site, as we still call it, for a rushed bomb blast for political purposes is beyond wrong and, worst of all, would launch a new and far more dangerous international nuclear arms race.”