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Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriation Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SHIMKUS. Mr. Chairman, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the NRC, has adequate funds to resume licensing activities for the Yucca nuclear waste repository as called for in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, but it refuses to do so. The NRC claims it has the legal authority to ignore the law duly enacted by this Congress if the agency isn't given enough money to ``finish the job.''

Under our Constitution, agencies are funded year to year. They are seldom, if ever, given enough money in 1 year to do everything the law tells them to do, especially for long-term projects. In 2008 when the Yucca Mountain licensing proceedings started, Congress appropriated NRC enough money to conduct the proceedings for that year. We sure didn't give it enough to complete the 3-year licensing proceeding. In 2009, we gave the NRC enough to carry out the proceeding for another year. The NRC didn't stop because it didn't have enough money to finish the job. In fact, NRC only stopped the licensing and refused to spend money appropriated for licensing based on the administration's policy decision that the site is no longer workable.

Now, after being hauled into Federal court for ignoring a statutory duty to decide the license application in 3 years, the NRC claims it doesn't have to follow the law because, while it has plenty of money to resume the licensing process and move it forward, it doesn't have enough money to finish it.

When we pass a law and tell an agency to do something and give it enough money to do a job during a given year, can the agency just thumb its nose and say, We're not going to do that job at all because Congress didn't give us enough money to finish the job next year?

No agency has ever successfully told a court not to make it follow the law because in some future year it might not get enough money to do the job the law requires. Allowing NRC to cancel Yucca would unconstitutionally shift the balance of powers to executive agencies to evade congressionally mandated legal obligations.

The Federal appellate court has made its displeasure with the NRC's legal position known. We need to do the same.

This is an outrageous unilateral decision to stop Yucca and not spend funds specifically appropriated for licensing activities. No agency can ignore a statutory duty to proceed with a project based on a subjective determination that adequate funds may not be available to complete the project in the future. We need to send a clear message to every agency this isn't how our Constitution works.

So on top of the over $10 million that the NRC has now to restart the licensing process, this amendment provides an additional $10 million in new funds so they can continue the process. The amendment is budget neutral and fully offset by taking funds from the DOE's departmental administration account. We are asking DOE to do more with a little less by making modest cuts to an account for salaries and expenses.

I urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on the amendment to fund the legally required licensing process for Yucca Mountain so that the NRC, an independent government agency, has funding necessary to finish their thorough, objective, and technical review. In doing so, the NRC, not political games, will determine whether Yucca Mountain would make a safe repository. Having spent 30 years and $15 billion of ratepayer money, the American people at least deserve to find out the answer to whether Yucca is safe.

And whether you favor nuclear power or Yucca Mountain isn't the only issue. The core issue is whether laws we pass may be completely ignored by agencies if they think that some day they may not get enough money to finish the job. Allowing agencies to get away with this results in shifting more of our legislative powers to unelected agency bureaucrats.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I urge all of my colleagues to support the Shimkus amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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