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After the Obama administration abandoned plans in 2009 to bury nuclear waste at a repository in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, a spot chosen by leading senators more than 20 years earlier, a study commission recommended that a new location be picked through âa consent-based process.â
On Thursday, a group of senators introduced a bill, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act, that would establish such a process, based in part on public comments solicited online by the bill’s sponsors – a practice generally reserved for rules proposed by federal agencies. Call it consent-based legislation.
âThe Senate did something highly unusual,â said Per F. Peterson, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and a public policy expert. He said the way the l egislation was developed resembled the process used by the study commission, which held hearings around the country. Taking public comment âestablishes a strong foundation for the legislation to be successful if passed by the Senate and then by the House,” he said.
Others are not so optimistic. In the House, there is still strong support for trying to revive the Yucca plan, first proposed in 1987. That effort would depend on the outcome of a lawsuit heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in May 2012. The three judges have not yet ruled.
But the Congressional process thus far has been stunning compared with the process in 1987. At that time, senators from other states that had potential sites, including Texas, Louisiana and Washington, cut a deal to choose Nevada, which was unabl e to fight it off. After Senator Harry Reid of Nevada became the Democratic leader, though, he cut off funding and the consensus fell apart.
Under the new bill, a new federal agency would be empowered to cut a deal with a state and local governments, subject to approval by Congress.Â It does not define the elements of such a deal, but the expectation is that the government would offer what amounted to a handsome dowry for an ugly bride: money for roads, universities or other goodies.
In the interim, the bill would allow above-ground storage of nuclear waste in a central location, a temporary resolution to a problem that has arisen as reactors retire and the waste is orphaned.
The bill was introduced by Senators Di anne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development; Lamar Alexander of Tennessee,Â the subcommittee’s ranking Republican; Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee; and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican member.
Congress leaves town for the Fourth of July recess on Friday, but the Senate could take up the measure later this year.
When the Senate votes this week on legislation that would revamp the nation’s immigration laws, perhaps the most watched vote will be the one cast by Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a prominent Hispanic voice in his party.
On Wednesday, Mr. Rubio, an author of the bipartisan bill being debated, took to the Senate floor to explain – and at times defend – his involvement in the largest immigration overhaul in decades.
Mr. Rubio, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 on a Tea Party wave, began by acknowledging all of the phone calls and e-mail messages – not always happy ones, he noted – that he had received in recent weeks from conservatives and Tea Party activists from around the country. These constituents, he said, were âpatriotsâ – not âanti-immigrantâ or âclose-mindedâ people, as some pro-immigration advocates have called them.
Then, Mr. Rubio turned to the current immigration system.
âW e have a badly broken legal immigration system,â he said. âAnd we have 11 million people living in this country illegally in de facto amnesty.â
Mr. Rubio has been closely watched throughout the entire process, and he has explained (and re-explained) his legislation to conservative television and radio hosts, not to mention his colleagues in both the Senate and the House. On Wednesday he offered further explanation as to why he chose to get involved with a bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.
âThis isn’t about becoming a Washington dealmaker,â he said. âTruthfully, it would have been a lot easier to just sit back, vote against any proposal and give speeches about how I would have done it differently.â
âAnd finally,â he added, âthis certainly isn’t about gaining support for future office. Many commentators and leaders, people who I deeply respect and with whom I agree on virtually every other issue, are disappointed about my inv olvment in this debate.â
Indeed, in addition to frustrating many conservatives and Tea Party activists, Mr. Rubio split with his mentor – former Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who is now leading the charge against Mr. Rubio’s bill from his perch at the Heritage Foundation – on the topic of immigration.
âI got involved in this issue for one simple reason,â Mr. Rubio said. âI ran for office to try and fix things that are hurting this special country, and in the end, that’s what this is about for me – trying to fix a serious problem that faces America.â
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