Trump vs. Nevada
His policies and people loom
The departure of President Obama and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid from D.C. will likely create some uncomfortable situations for Nevada politicians—particularly Republicans.
At a panel discussion in a D.C. hotel last week, nuclear power lobbyist Scott Segal said, “I do think this [Trump] administration is going to be very helpful to the nuclear sector, and I think [will help with] some of the challenges in nuclear, including coming up with a solution for waste, revisiting Yucca, and other issues as well.”
There’s a lot of that kind of talk going around, that programs aided or blocked by Obama or Reid, will now be handled differently.
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina—best known for shouting “you lie” at Obama during a 2009 speech to a joint session of Congress—is now claiming that with Obama and Reid gone, the construction of a dump for high level nuclear wastes at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain in Nye County can go ahead. His state has the Summer, Robinson and Oconee nuclear power stations. In addition, he is pushing for completion of a facility for converting weapons plutonium into fuel for nuclear reactors.
Last week, the Albuquerque Journal editorialized, “Nothing is what American taxpayers have received for their $15 billion spent to date—nothing, that is, except less-secure storage of nuclear waste. And congressional leaders and the incoming administration should change that.”
The quest for a dump site was originally a scientific competition among sites in Texas, Nevada and Washington. But it became a political quest in 1987 when Congress let Washington (then home state of the U.S. House speaker) and Texas (then home state of the U.S. vice president) off the hook and targeted solely Nevada.
The impression that the dump site is ready to use has been promoted by supporters of nuclear power, though it is actually years or even decades away from being ready—the actual dump must still be built, and so must the rail line to bring waste to the site. The work done at the site so far is suitability work, to determine if it is the place to build the dump.
Post-election headlines have included references to Trump’s Las Vegas holdings, as with “A nuke waste train to Yucca could pass near Trump’s L.V. hotel” (Las Vegas Sun).
In addition, while the Yucca site has been effectively shut down for six years by President Obama, science has marched forward and research and development have continued. Matters that were once settled by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must now be reopened and scrutinized, including the nature of the waste and changes to the storage casks.
In addition, once the project shut down, its crew scattered to the four corners of the globe and new work. Scientists and engineers, skilled laborers and builders are now at work elsewhere. The whole project would have to be reassembled with new people.
Trump himself was non-committal during the campaign, telling Nevadans he would get back to them after he thought through the issues. He never did.
“You have to worry about safety,” Trump told Las Vegas television station KSNR in October. “And it’s a little bit close to a very major population base, so I’m going to take a very strong look at it, and I will come very strongly one way or the other. I will have an opinion.”
Even with Reid gone, Nevada will have an anti-Yucca U.S. senator, governor, legislature, and three out of four U.S. House members.
Over time, the U.S. Energy Department—once enthusiastic for the Yucca project—has evolved, and a few days ago issued a position paper giving reasons why Trump might not want to fund the project.Prohibition
Other problem areas could include legal marijuana and medical marijuana. During the Obama administration, the Justice Department mostly kept hands-off states that repealed state anti-marijuana laws.
On the day Trump lost the election but won a majority of presidential electors, eight more states approved pro-marijuana laws. Mild concern about Trump from marijuana marketers turned into major panic after he nominated Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. Sessions was once quoted saying he approved of the Ku Klux Klan until he learned that its members smoked pot.
If Sessions is approved to head the Justice Department—he was previously rejected by the Senate for a U.S. attorney post because of racist comments—it would put a dedicated prohibitionist into the job, which raised the possibility that the Trump administration will put aside the Obama state’s rights policy and begin cracking down. That would pit Nevada’s Republican and highly partisan state attorney general, Adam Laxalt—who must defend Nevada state laws—against Sessions and the Trump administration.
While the Department of Energy may have softened on Yucca Mountain, the Drug Enforcement Administration seems not to have softened on marijuana. Just last week, on Dec. 7, the DEA filed a new regulation, “Establishment of a New Drug Code for Marihuana Extract,” which puts new obstacles between cannabidiol hemp oil (CBD) and children, whose epilepsy can sometimes be treated by the stuff. Some families have actually moved to Colorado to have access to a supply of it.
On Dec. 17, the Denver Post editorialized its concern about Sessions: “Colorado’s current haul helps fuel national estimated sales of $7.4 billion in 2016. Now that California voters have followed our lead, it’s possible that another $6.5 billion could be added to national tallies from the Golden State alone by 2020. The legal cannabis industry is the fastest-growing sector in Colorado, and it employed more than 18,000 direct and related full-time workers in 2015. For a president-elect looking to create and keep good jobs in the United States, a crackdown on this burgeoning industry would seem a poor move indeed.”