How Yucca Mountain can still spark partisan firefights and rhetorical nonsense

Full disclosure: I hate Yucca Mountain.

Not the place; the political issue.

Ever since the 1987 Screw Nevada Bill, singling out Nevada as the site for nuclear waste disposal, the public (well, mostly the media) has endured local pols posturing and visiting electeds pandering. It is endless and mindless.

There is no new dump rhetoric. Democrats still wield it occasionally to pummel Republicans, who have been more pro-Yucca than Democrats through the years. But since Barack Obama committed to kill the project when he was desperately seeking Nevada’s electoral votes, the dump has been as dead as Jacob Marley.

I’ve always believed that once Obama left the White House and/or once Reid was no longer majority leader, a Yucca revival could occur. But Prince Harry has effectively strangled the project’s funding, which has asphyxiated its chances. A dump delayed has been a dump denied. No one seriously talks about it anymore.

Until this week.

Yucca first sneaked back into the news when the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker posted this piece on Sunday that had Sen. Dean Heller warning “that limiting the power of the minority could eventually lead to Nevada's Yucca Mountain being re-opened as a nuclear waste dump, a personal consideration for Reid. If the minority didn't force the Senate to round up 60 votes instead of a bare majority, Nevada would become the nation's nuclear dumping ground, he said.”

Then this: And, Heller admonishes that at some point after the 72 year-old Reid relinquishes his powerful leadership post and retires from the Senate, a small state like Nevada could be outnumbered on Capitol Hill by those who want to re-open Yucca.

"The day is going to come that either he's not here or the Republicans take control and if it's a 50-vote threshold, those kind of issues are the ones that concern me the most," Heller said. "When you're from a small state, you need as many arrows in your quiver as possible to fight back on some of these issues that you can be overtaken by. And, frankly, this 60-vote threshold is what has protected and saved Nevada in the past."

So follow this here: Nevada’s junior senator is in effect warning Nevada’s senior senator that if he continues his efforts to curb the filibuster, nuclear waste could soon be stored at Yucca Mountain. Subtle message, eh?

Reid declined to talk to Drucker, and I got nada as well.

But Lamar Alexander used Heller’s comments as a jumping-off point the next day on the Senate floor to admonish Reid from changing the rules. “A vote to end the filibuster is a vote to complete Yucca Mountain,” the Tennessee senator said on the floor.

Brandishing the threat of nuclear waste to fight the nuclear option. A certain symmetry, I suppose.

I’m sure some Democrats, probably including Nevada’s prince, thought this was a choreographed move by the Republicans – the Heller interview followed by the Alexander floor speech. And I’m sure their suspicions deepened when Heller put out Alexander’s speech with a YouTube link (embedded below) in a news release shortly thereafter, headlined, Heller: Nevada, Yucca Mountain Should Not be Fallout from the “Nuclear Option”

His quote: “I will do everything in my power as a United States Senator to ensure the safety and well-being of Nevadans. For years, members of the entire Nevada delegation have put aside our political jerseys and worked together to ensure that the Yucca Mountain waste site would never open. It is important that Nevadans know that the inside-the-beltway debate about Senate rules could have very serious ramifications for Nevada and the opening of Yucca Mountain.”

No other way to read that, if you understand what is occurring inside the Beltway, than as a chiding of the senator from his own state who is trying to change the rules. Better headline for that news release would have been: “Be careful what you wish for, Harry.”

I have little doubt that some will see Heller as a useful idiot for Yucca backers by raising this issue while the junior senator will see himself as doing Reid a favor by offering this pre-emptive strike. “Senator Heller is worried about both his Democratic and Republican colleagues voting to open Yucca Mountain,” his spokeswoman, Chandler Smith, said.

It certainly is true that many Democrats, including prominent ones with nuclear waste in their states such as Reid lieutenant Dick Durbin, have backed the dump. NIMBY is a party both Democrats and Republicans belong to.

But it’s also clear that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who also raised the Yucca issue, has been frustrated by Reid’s filibuster reform talk and has been looking for a way to back him off. Reid was having none of it – at least publicly – and would not respond to the taunts.

Although Reid has not advocated abolishing their filibuster and the Obama backstop is implicit on Yucca, it is reasonable to posit that once you started chipping away at the filibuster, anything is on the table. But it does not look so great for Heller when it is his party in the House trying to revive Yucca funding and his GOP Senate colleagues are using his Yucca alarm to pound Reid.

Of course, that’s not enough for the Democrats, who overplayed their hand with a completely over-the-top, frothing news release shortly after the floor speeches:

Dean Heller Sells Out Nevadans and Supports GOP Efforts to Reopen Yucca Mountain

Las Vegas, NV – Nevada State Democratic Party spokesperson Zach Hudson released the following statement in response to Sen. Dean Heller’s support of Senate Republicans’ efforts to reopen Yucca Mountain:

“Thanks to Sen. Reid and President Obama, this reckless project that threatens the health and safety of Nevadans was finally killed. Unfortunately, Sen. Dean Heller is joining Washington Republicans and supporting their efforts to re-open Yucca Mountain. As usual, Heller is more interested in playing to the cameras and garnering easy headlines than in protecting Nevada families. His willingness to sell Nevadans out to Washington Republicans would be alarming if the junior freshman Senator actually had any relevance in the legislative process -- something he deservedly does not.”

Supporting their efforts to reopen Yucca? Seriously, guys? Truth takes a holiday.

None of this will amount to much as it appears Reid does not have the votes to change the rules. But I ask: Do you understand now why I hate Yucca Mountain so much?