President Trump's funding for the nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is emerging as one of the few points of agreement among top House Republicans when it comes to the president's fiscal 2018 budget proposal.
"I was glad to see you put money into ... Yucca Mountain. That's something that this committee has put money into for the last several years, and it always gets dropped in conference" between the House and the Senate, said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, during Tuesday's first budget hearing with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
The GOP says failure to open the facility is one of the key obstacles to growing the U.S. nuclear power plant fleet, which requires a central repository for storing highly radioactive waste from the plants. The Obama administration shut down construction and licensing of the facility as a favor to Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, which opposed opening the facility in favor of renewable energy development in the state. Nevada lawmakers continue to oppose the facility and Trump's funding boost.
"The previous administration made the wrong, and I believe costly decision, to abandon Yucca licensing... changing course on this program and ignoring the law," Simpson said.
Simpson added that he will support both Trump's increases for Yucca Mountain and weapons development, which are under the agency's authority. However, he said he's worried about the cuts Perry proposes for energy research.
The $3.5 billion in proposed cuts is "a substantial reduction" that appropriators will have to "carefully review," said Simpson. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., who is chairman of the full committee, put a finer point on the problem. "I do have some concerns about cuts to the [nuclear] fusion program and certain aspects of nuclear energy," Frelinghuysen said. He said these research programs have had the support of House appropriators for years.
"The proposed decreases, which are pretty dramatic, would inevitably delay some of the progress we're making in this exciting field, including in my home state of New Jersey" at Princeton University, said Frelinghuysen. He joined with Simpson in supporting the president's proposed increase of $120 million to license the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility in Nevada.
"We are very supportive of the work we need to do at Yucca Mountain," the chairman said. The taxpayer has invested billions of dollars there, and "we need to get it open for use as a proper repository for the future."
Last week, Frelinghuysen, Simpson and other Republican appropriators had voiced concerns over the proposed cuts made by Trump's fiscal 2018 Environmental Protection Agency's budget.
The proposed cuts for EPA would reduce the budget by a drastic 31 percent in fiscal 2018. In comparison, the Energy Department received one of the lowest cuts in the budget request at about 6 percent below fiscal 2017.