U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

Energy Blog

Energy Blog

US Chamber of Commerce Blog

Sean Hackbarth  Department of Energy.Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Photo credit: Department of Energy.

Is there a connection between President Obama designating a new national monument in Nevada and a nuclear disposal facility?

President Obama designated a massive area two hours north of Las Vegas as the Basin and Range National Monument. The site for a national nuclear waste disposal facility, Yucca Mountain, is also in Nevada on the other side of the state.

It just happens that a proposed rail line to Yucca Mountain will run through the new national monument, The Las Vegas Sun's Cy Ryan reports:

[Robert Halstead, executive director of the state Agency for Nuclear Projects] said the proposed 300-mile route of the railroad would go through the newly created Basin and Range National Monument, which is 700,000 acres of mountains and valleys about two hours from Las Vegas that feature "rock art" dating back 4,000 years.

"This really complicates life for the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission)," Halstead said. The NRC must approve the waste dump.

lv_review_journal_caliente_yucca_rail_line.jpg  Las Vegas Review-Journal.Proposed Yucca Mountain-Caliente rail line. Photo credit: Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Did the Obama administration designate a new national monument to block the Yucca Mountain disposal site authorized by Congress 13 years ago?

Based on circumstantial evidence, it's not a stretch to think it might have played a role.

First, Yucca Mountain experts see Basin and Range National Monument as a big obstacle. From The Las Vegas Review-Journal:

"It's a significant impediment to Yucca Mountain moving forward with a rail line as previously defined," said former DOE official Timothy Frazier, now senior adviser to the Bipartisan Policy Center. "Now they're going to have to find another rail route. To me it's delay upon delay to do that."

Marta Adams, Nevada's top state lawyer who has been fighting Yucca's construction for 18 years, agrees.

Second, there is the fact that for years President Obama has colluded with Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to ensure that Yucca Mountain never opened. These efforts defied laws that made the federal government responsible for nuclear waste and Yucca Mountain the location for the material.

Here's a brief timeline of how they defied laws that made the federal government responsible for nuclear waste and Yucca Mountain the location for the material:

2002: Congress approved the Yucca Mountain site and ordered $9.5 billion be spend developing it. 2010: President Obama ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), led at the time by Gregory Jaczko (a former aide to Sen. Harry Reid) to stop reviewing the project but didn't offer any alternatives to continued on-site storage of nuclear waste. 2013: A federal court ruled the NRC violated federal law and ordered it to continue its review of Yucca Mountain. May 2014: After being smacked down by another federal court, the Department of Energy stopped collecting a fee from electricity customers to pay for a nuclear waste disposal site that doesn't exist. October 2014: The NRC concluded that Yucca Mountain would be safe for storing nuclear waste.

With a bit of circular logic, Sen. Reid denied any connection between Basin and Range and Yucca Mountain:

"First of all, there's not going to be Yucca Mountain so why would you build a railroad and if there were a Yucca Mountain, which there isn't, the railroad would never be built anyways."

However, the long-time Yucca Mountain opponent, played an instrumental role in the creation of Basin and Range National Monument. "It is only due to Harry Reid that this is getting done," a former presidential advisor told The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin.

There's no doubt that getting Yucca Mountain up and running would be a tall task even if the president and Sen. Reid weren't blocking it. But until the law is changed, Congress' intent should be respected. Whether intentional or not, with a stroke of his pen, President Obama has put up yet another barrier to the project.

Although he won't admit it, thoughts about his legacy probably lurk in the back of the president's mind. Unless there's a dramatic (but welcome) policy reversal, President Obama's legacy will include undermining federal law and not having a solution for the growing amount of nuclear waste material at America's nuclear power plants.

Sean Hackbarth Pipe to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline in a field in Gascoyne, ND.Pipe to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline in a field in Gascoyne, ND. Photo credit: Sean Hackbarth.

What's going on with the Keystone XL pipeline, other than it's still in permitting limbo?

The House Oversight Committee has been trying to figure out what's taking the State Department so long to make a decision on the project's permit application.

For months, the State Department has refused to turn over comments from other agencies on the project, so Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is subpoenaing them:

Chairman Jason Chaffetz said that Kerry had not complied with two previous requests for copies of other departments' input on the ongoing review of the Alberta-to-Gulf Coast tar-sands pipeline.

"The Department has been uncooperative in the Committee's efforts to conduct oversight of the Keystone XL permitting process and has shown an unwillingness to recognize the Committee's legitimate interest in obtaining information. In light of this, a subpoena is necessary and appropriate," said Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, in a statement.

"We will not be stymied in carrying out our responsibility to the American people to effectively oversee the Executive Branch," he added.

Chaffetz in February requested copies of the comments from other federal agencies and departments on the TransCanada pipeline project, which is still under federal review.

The State Department argues that the document shouldn't be released because they "implicate important Executive Branch confidentiality interests."

However, EPA demolished that argument when it released its comments on the State Department's environmental review of the pipeline in February. The agency argued that--no surprise--more study/delay of the project was needed.

Here's what EPA got wrong in its analysis -- 2 Charts Demolish EPA's Keystone XL Arguments.

What did other departments and agencies had to say? Maybe they disagreed with EPA's conclusions? Or perhaps they reaffirmed the State Department's conclusions that the Keystone XL pipeline will have no significant environmental impacts. We'll only know when the State Department releases the documents.

Rep. Chaffetz isn't the only one frustrated with the Keystone XL permitting process. Residents living along the proposed route of the pipeline also wonder when a decision will be made on a project they know will improve their communities.

It shouldn't take this long to approve the project. Matt Koch of the Institute for 21st Century Energy noted that the original Keystone pipeline--now five-years-old--was permitted in three years.  It's six years and counting for the Keystone XL. Other well-known projects have been completed much faster.

The fact is the Obama administration has turned a normally boring permitting process into an unprecedented, never ending political tug-of-war. The administration should approve the Keystone XL pipeline now and put this behind us.

6 Massive Projects Completed Faster than the Keystone Pipeline's 6 Year Permitting Process from U.S. Chamber of Commerce
J.D. Harrison U.S. oil workerThe U.S. stands to gain thousands of energy sector jobs by lifting the decades-old oil export ban. Photographer: Derick E. Hingle/Bloomberg

Harold Hamm has seen first-hand the benefits of America's energy resurgence.

"Growing up as one of 13 children born to sharecroppers in Lexington, Oklahoma, I understand the impact of oil and natural gas on rural communities," Hamm, now chief executive at Continental Resources, an independent oil and gas production company in Oklahoma City, told members of Congress on Wednesday. "In fact, oil has helped me break a cycle of poverty my family had been caught in since the Great Depression."

Hamm has also seen first-hand the consequences of our country's outdated rules banning the export of America's crude oil.

"The federal laws passed in the 1970s artificially controlled the supply, demand and price of U.S. energy and brought about unintended consequences," Hamm explained during a hearing before the House Agriculture Committee, pointing to studies showing that the ban has translated into higher gas prices for Americans, the loss of hundreds of thousands of American jobs, and billions in lost U.S. revenue. "The ban is a terrible relic of the Nixon era that today actually harms the American economy."

Hamm's voice is part of a growing chorus around the country calling for lifting the nation's oil export ban. On the same day, two labor groups, the Laborers' International Union of North America and the International Union of Operating Engineers, added their signatures to a letter with 20 other industry groups supporting a bill eliminating the ban.

In the letter, they wrote: "Opening global markets to U.S. producers will support added domestic production that will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and contribute tens of billions of GDP dollars in the supply chain within the next few years." The groups later added that the bill would "put downward pressure on domestic fuel prices."

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conway (R-Texas) agrees, saying in his opening remarks at the hearing that, "While it may have been well-intentioned at the time of enactment, the ban on crude oil exports is an antiquated relic and it is disrupting global energy markets, reducing domestic employment, and slowing economic growth."

Not allowing energy producers to sell oil abroad puts a particularly large strain on America's heartland, Conway added, because "the majority of oil development takes place in rural areas like my district, and when development slows or prices swing wildly, the health of those rural communities suffers."

Calls to remove the ban are growing louder in Congress. A day after the Agriculture Committee hearing, the House Energy and Commerce Committee followed suit with another hearing on the export ban. In his opening comments, Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky) reiterated the toll that the ban is taking on the American economy.

"Unfortunately, we have seen the loss of thousands of direct and indirect oil jobs," Whitfield said. "New production is being cut back, not because of a shortage of places to drill, but because of a shortage of customers." He later pointed to an estimate from IHS that lifting the ban would create nearly a million additional jobs in the U.S.

Conversely, maintaining the ban would likely lead to further job losses for oil producers. Hamm, the executive from Oklahoma City, cited recent estimates that his state alone stands to lose 11,000 jobs by the end of the year in the ban continues.

"Why does the United States, a nation historically very supportive of free trade, continue to impose export barriers for domestic crude oil?" Hamm posed to lawmakers on the agriculture committee. "Congress must lift the ban."