Democrats aren’t the only ones in Nevada fuming over President Trump’s budget proposal.
Republican Sen. Dean Heller is calling it “anti-Nevada,” and why not? Nevadans voted for Hillary Clinton, and punishing opponents is a typical strategy of our president.
Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto called the budget not only fiscally irresponsible but “morally reprehensible.”
Many of the protests coming from lawmakers and others this week have been in regard to Trump’s proposed cuts to Medicaid, which would follow a massive expansion under the Obama administration. But there are some Nevada-specific items addressed in the budget as well, not the least of which is the revival of Yucca Mountain.
“Yucca Mountain is dead; it’s a failed proposal that has already wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and is overwhelmingly rejected by Nevadans,” Heller stated. “It’s time the Administration move on from the Yucca debate and turn its focus to a viable solution to the country’s nuclear waste problem.”
That has been the standard position of Nevada’s congressional leadership for decades, but it’s not the only opinion. In fact, commissioners in Nye County – where the nuclear repository would be located – support the project.
The theory has always been that tourists would be afraid to visit Las Vegas if nuclear waste containers were stored underneath a mountain a hundred miles away. When the repository was first designated 30 years ago radiation was still a frightening concept. Today, a terrorist attack is probably more likely to occur in Nevada than a spill of radioactive material.
The big question is whether the waste can be safely transported from nuclear plants across the country. Another question: Why isn’t the United States reprocessing its nuclear waste into usable fuel like some other countries are doing? Recycling could bring economic benefits, as columnist Thomas Mitchell pointed out earlier this month.
“The Yucca Mountain nuclear repository would bring federal dollars to Nevada, create well-paying science and construction jobs, and improve the state’s infrastructure,” Nye County commissioner wrote. “The project would also strengthen national security, a role Nye County and Nevada has always taken the lead in through the past eight decades.”
In the end, neither locals nor state officials will decide if Yucca Mountain becomes a reality. Like most public lands decisions it will be determined by the majority of people in states that are least affected.
Heller says Trump’s budget is also a threat to other public-lands related programs, such as Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act (SNPLMA).
The PILT program compensates counties for loss of tax revenue based on the high percentage of federal lands within their borders. Elko County has indeed benefitted from the funding, which has been averaging around $3 million a year. That’s more than the county gets from the proceeds of minerals tax.
SNPLMA is self-funded by federal land sales, with the money going toward conservation and recreation projects. Trump’s budget would reportedly confiscate the $230 million currently in the fund that’s waiting to be spent.
We think both of these programs make sense, and should be kept in the budget until federal authorities come up with a better way to compensate Nevadans for the 80 percent of land they are holding.
One item that Heller was happy to report as being excluded from the president’s budget was a so-called “dirt tax” on mines – contrary to earlier reports that it was included.
Heller said he urged Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in April to exclude any new mining royalties and an abandoned mine land fee from the budget. He cited estimates based on a proposal from President Obama that a fee of 7.8 cents per ton would cost Nevada’s mining companies more than $40 million a year.
“Mining is the backbone of Nevada’s rural economy and is responsible for over 18,000 good-paying jobs across the Silver State,” said Heller. “The proposed ‘dirt tax’ would have crippled not only Nevada’s mining industry, but local economies throughout the state. The fact that this was originally looked at by this Administration while crafting their budget only underscores that their budget priorities were anti-Nevada. While I maintain significant concerns with the Administration’s budget request, I am encouraged to see this anti-Nevada provision excluded from the budget request.”
Nevada may not be near the top of President’s Trump list for granting special favors, but overall his policies should be favorable to the industry that keeps northeastern Nevada’s wheels turning.