Republicans concede Yucca and ask for compensation

Jeremy Parker

You rarely see the terms "ideological consistency" and "Republican Party" hand in hand. Witness some recent examples:

• Republicans are stoking the debate over how John Kerry conducted himself during his service in Vietnam, the propriety of his throwing his medals (or ribbons) at the Pentagon in protest, and whether he threw them away at all. All so we forget that President Bush was virtually (if not officially) AWOL during his service in the National Guard—which, during the Vietnam era, was akin to a country club, populated largely by the sons of the rich and influential so they could be out of harm's way. (Question: Why does Bush escape the brickbats that hammered Dan Quayle in '88?)

• Bush attack ads are pointing out Kerry's one-time support for a 50-cent increase in the federal gas tax in 1994. Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney, when he was the representative from Wyoming, introduced a bill in 1986 to tax foreign oil in order to elevate it to a base price of $24 per barrel. (Oil imports cost about $18 per barrel from the late 1980s through most of the 1990s.) The idea was to prop up the domestic oil industry and let them keep charging higher prices, rather than have them compete with cheaper imports. Cheney defended his plan: "Let us rid ourselves of the fiction that low oil prices are somehow good for the United States." The bill included an inflation-adjusted formula to calculate the base; had it passed and gone unchecked to this day, that base would now exceed $48 per barrel. (Current Saudi oil prices are $33/barrel.)

• In their fealty to free trade, Republicans defend the "outsourcing" (read: export) of jobs overseas and seek the free flow of goods and services across all borders. Except when it comes to letting Americans import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. That's still illegal, and Republicans in Congress expressly rejected lifting the ban during last year's Medicare overhaul.

I bring all this up because two weeks ago, the Nevada Republican Party demonstrated a rare act of ideological consistency at their state convention. So let's give them a cheer—even if, in the end, that cheer is of the Bronx variety.

You see, at their convention, Nevada Republicans approved a plank in their state platform that favors negotiating for compensation in exchange for the nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Since you can't in good faith negotiate for compensation for something and actively oppose it at the same time, the plank is being taken as an act of surrender in the Yucca fight.

Now, most officials—including top Republicans who have essentially renounced this plank—put their faith in several lawsuits filed against the repository siting. The lawsuits assert that, in siting and approving Yucca, the federal government violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Nuclear Waste Protection Act, among other laws, and that various federal agencies skirted required demonstrations of safety.

But the lawsuits will not keep Yucca Mountain from opening. What may or may not have been violated are mere laws and regulations—which can be overturned or waived by an act of Congress (along with presidential approval). In fact, it can be argued—and the courts may yet rule this way—that the congressional vote to authorize the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository two years ago implicitly waived or superseded those laws and regulations. But if the courts do in fact rule in Nevada's favor and block Yucca, all Congress has to do is explicitly exempt the repository from those laws and regulations, and Yucca's back on.

The only way a state can ultimately prevail against an act of Congress is by demonstrating a constitutional violation. Without that argument, there is no way that the courts can, in the words of one local columnist, "deal a death blow" to the Yucca repository. And there really isn't such an argument here. One of the lawsuits asserts that siting the repository in a state against its wishes is a violation of the state's sovereignty. But Nevada already advanced that argument, in an earlier anti-Yucca lawsuit 14 years ago, and it was rejected in federal appeals court.

Yucca Mountain will only be stopped by political means. Right now, Congress and the White House, both under Republican control, are predisposed to seeing Yucca open and accept nuclear waste as soon as possible. But if Congress were to change hands to the Democrats, it would be more inclined to cut off funding for Yucca—particularly with Nevada's own Harry Reid in the Senate leadership. And anti-Yucca President Kerry could bring Yucca progress to a virtual standstill, and could wield the line-item veto against further funding. A change in both branches of government could conceivably lead to the repeal of the 2002 Yucca authorization altogether.

Thus the Nevada Republican Party's quandary. They can't, with any intellectual honesty, fight Yucca while backing President Bush and a Republican Congress, because it's precisely President Bush and the Republican Congress that's responsible for authorizing Yucca. So they pursued the only logically consistent path short of renouncing their party and its president: They caved in on Yucca and seek some kind of deal.

Let's hear it, then, for the Nevada Republican Party: They want to sell us out, but at least they're upfront about it.

Jeremy Parker writes about politics biweekly. His website is

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