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Public Statements

Important Issues Facing America and the World

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SHIMKUS. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the time yielded to me to really cover a couple different issues and areas that have been pending either in the District or in our Nation--or even internationally--and using this opportunity to place into the Record and also speak to you--in essence, speaking to the Nation--on the importance of these issues.

First what I would like to do is really commend Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson for passing an ag bill out of their committee.

Now, what my producers are asking is to pass a full ag bill on the floor sooner rather than later. In fact, I've seen, and I'm sure you've seen, an ag bill now. But we were successful today in helping mitigate a flaw in the last ag bill in ensuring that the livestock provisions and the insurance portion of the ag bill of 5 years ago, it wasn't funded for this last year.

As everyone knows, this is a very challenging year for the agricultural sector. I was able to visit a dairy farm in my district last Friday, the Timmerman family, and there I was able to meet with my producers, both commodity, livestock and dairy, and in my part of the State, sometimes they are doing all of the above.

So I brought down--actually, they brought to me and I brought back to Washington to give an example of the challenges we're under. Here is a good ear of corn that has been irrigated and is what we would expect to see almost every year in southern Illinois. This was what came off of a stalk on the Timmerman dairy farm. And so this gives you, Mr. Speaker, an opportunity to understand the challenges that are faced.

Now, in a dairy operation, like a beef operation, they're growing the corn to feed their livestock. So if this is what's supposed to feed their livestock, they're used to getting this, you can understand why passing this disaster relief portion to fully fund the ag bill to help them out is very, very important.

Another producer brought this, which is the stalk and even a worse--well, it's not even an ear of corn. It's decayed, it hasn't formed, and that's what a lot of our producers are seeing in Illinois during this time.

Now, our agriculture producers are a healthy stock, and they understand that the world is changing and that there are spending and fiscal challenges and difficulties. They're asking for a simple premise. They just want to be able to have an ag insurance product that they can rely on, that they can choose to buy into or not. They don't want to be placed in a position of having no ag insurance and then depending upon if there's a drought on disaster payments from the national government, as has happened in the past before we really had a safety net and an ag insurance program and plan.

They know that other provisions of the ag bill are going by the wayside. They know that direct payments are going to go by the wayside. So they are just very concerned, as they should be, that this is the end of the authorization of a current farm bill. The important thing is to get the next farm bill reauthorized so that, when they start buying the seed and planning which field they're going to plant what crop, they can then make a decision whether they want to insure that crop, and they will have some expectation that if they have another bad year they will at least be able to survive to the next year.

Giving a last story about my ag producers, I was up in another part of central Illinois. I was talking to one of the producers, and he projected--and I didn't know for sure that his loss of his crop was about $400,000, which is a pretty big loss. With ag insurance, his loss is only going to be $200,000.

Now, I know you, Mr. Speaker, come from a business background, but I think it's very important to let the American public know that these producers are still going to have a loss even with an ag insurance product out there. They're not going to make them whole. But what they will do is allow them to give it another go the next year and get back into the field. That's the importance of an ag bill.

Again, I really salute Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson, and I look forward to talking to my colleagues on the importance of having an ag bill, a long ag bill, a 5-year ag bill, so that our producers have some certainty when, as this year has shown, there could be uncertain times that they are powerless to control. If there were a private sector option, maybe we could have that debate of whether there should be ag insurance at all.

But the reality is the only insurance product available is that in which the Federal Government will help offset some of the cost, let the producers have some skin in the game, and then let's manage these risks so that we could still have the safest, least expensive food supply in the world.

Mr. Speaker, I'm going to turn my attention now to some problem statements coming out from the majority leader of the other body, Mr. Reid, on a commissioner of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I pulled from the Web site the values statement and the principles of good regulation which is on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission site. And one of the first things on here, it says:

Independence: Nothing but the highest possible standards of ethical performance and professionalism should influence regulation.

Now, as we have learned from press reports on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got angry, and for once, it wasn't directed at Republicans. He directed his tirade at Bill Magwood, a commissioner at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Why did he focus such venom and energy at a little known public official at an independent agency? He thought he had successfully strong-armed an independent commissioner to vote the way he wanted to. In fact, the majority leader is acting--we all hate bullies, Mr. Speaker, and to have the majority leader of the Senate be a bully to a commissioner duly appointed being independent is egregious.

According to one article:

Reid said he was assured by Pete Rouse, a senior White House official, that Magwood would also oppose Yucca.

Now, Reid thinks Magwood worked against the effort to shut down Yucca. For that, Reid says Magwood is ``one of the most unethical, prevaricating, incompetent people I've ever dealt with.''

Now, this is the majority leader of the Senate besmirching a duly appointed commissioner confirmed by the Senate because the leader of the Senate has believed he had this person's vote versus the principles of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Nothing but the highest possible standards of ethical performance and professionalism should influence regulation.

Magwood unethical? I think the majority leader has got it backwards. Isn't it unethical for Members of Congress to pressure government officials to vote a certain way on adjudications? Now Senator Reid is on a tirade because he thinks his intimidation wasn't successful in convincing Commissioner Magwood to ignore the law.

Senator Reid wasn't embarrassed, though. He threw a party for his former employee, who is now the ex-commissioner. That's the kind of behavior that the public has had concerns with. This is publicly documented in the record. These are quotes by the majority leader of the Senate. It's not debatable that Commissioner Magwood is a duly appointed and confirmed commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission confirmed by the Senate and appointed by the President.

Mr. Speaker, now I will go to the other part.


Mr. SHIMKUS. Mr. Speaker, I will just read the Senator's quote that's quoted in the story:

Reid said he was assured by Pete Rouse, a senior White House official, that Magwood would also oppose Yucca. ``I met with him because Pete Rouse asked me to meet with him. I said, `Is he okay on Yucca Mountain?' Pete said, `Yeah.' ''

The story continues:

Reid said that Magwood's behind-the-scenes maneuvering was unforgivable. ``He's a first-class rat. He lied to Rouse, he lied to me, and he had a plan.''

Mr. Speaker, I'm not making this up. This is quotes. I'm not assuming what the majority leader's intentions were. I'm just reading quotes in a recently published newspaper about the majority leader of the Senate's position to a duly appointed and confirmed member of an independent regulatory commission. I think the leader owes Commissioner Magwood an apology.

With that, Mr. Speaker, as I said in my opening comments, this gives me an opportunity to cover farm bill issues, national nuclear regulatory issues, some international issues.

I've been concerned about democracy in Eastern European countries for many years, so let me come to the floor to you to talk about Ukraine and the former Prime Minister. Ms. Tymoshenko continues to serve a 7-year sentence in Kharkiv, while being prosecuted in multiple criminal cases amid international outcry from the United States and the European Union.

The trial against Ms. Tymoshenko in the gas case was described as ``selective justice'' and ``political persecution'' in statements by the U.S. and the EU. The court found Ms. Tymoshenko guilty of abuse of her power, sentenced her to 7 years in prison, and ordered her to pay the state 188 million.

On October 24, 2011, Ms. Tymoshenko filed an appeal against the sentence, which was rejected on December 23, 2011. On December 30, 2011, Ms. Tymoshenko was transferred to a penal colony in Kharkiv, where her health has significantly deteriorated. The doctors who were allowed to examine her this past February stated that she was ill, in constant pain, and required significant care.

Ms. Tymoshenko went on a hunger strike from April 20 to May 9 in protest of what has happened to Ukrainian democracy and what is happening to her in prison.

I support my colleague, Chris Smith's resolution, House Resolution 730, calling on Ukrainian authorities to release political opposition leaders and hold free and fair elections. The resolution calls for denying U.S. visas to Ukrainian officials involved in serious human rights abuses, anti-democratic actions, such as electoral fraud, or corruption, including officials involved in selective prosecution, persecution of political opponent.

I call on Ukrainian officials to immediately free Ms. Tymoshenko.

Also, Mr. Speaker, I spend time following, as I said, democracy issues in Eastern European areas, former captive nations, and I come to the floor also to talk about democracy in Belarus.

I continue to be gravely concerned about the condition of political prisoners in Belarus and serious violations by Belarus of its commitments to respect human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.

Despite the release of two political prisoners, former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov and his associate, Dmitry Bondarenko, the fundamentals of President Lukashenka's dictatorial rule have not changed. Thirteen political prisoners remain in prison, including Mikalai Statkevich, Ales Bialiatski, Syarhei Kavalenka, Zmitser Dashkevich, Pavel Seviarynets, Mikalai Autukhovich, Eduard Lobov and Mikalai Dziadok.

While journalist Andrzej Poczobut has been released pending trial, we believe that his arrest for illegally defaming the president was politically motivated and that the conditions imposed on his release are designed to further limit his ability to exercise his human rights. Moreover, recent days have seen the surge of the offices of the Union of Poles and the confiscation of equipment supposedly related to Mr. Poczobut's case.

We also recently have seen the arrest and detention and the release of journalist Pavel Sverdlov of the European Radio for Belarus for ``using foul language.'' Maybe we should consider that here sometimes. Such arrests and short-term detentions are becoming an ever-more common means to silence dissent in Belarus.

Increased restrictions on Alex Byalyatski and the court order issued July 4 for seizure of the offices of the Vyasna Human Rights Center are very disturbing.

Belarus, which already has applied travel restrictions on members of the opposition and human rights activists, recently has taken another step to restrict the fundamental freedom of movement, the right to leave one's country and return to it.

On July 12, the Belarusian authorities denied the right of Victor Kornienko, cochairman of the Initiative for Fair and Free Elections, to travel to Vienna to participate in the week's Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting. This restriction of Mr. Kornienko's freedom of movement calls into question Belarus' sincerity and commitment to change. The U.S. must protest this latest disregard of fundamental freedoms by Belarus.

The U.S. must call on Belarus to release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, to restore their full political and civil rights, and to stop the ongoing harassment of political activists, civil society representatives, human rights activists, and independent journalists.


Mr. SHIMKUS. Mr. Speaker, last but not least, what I've done on a weekly basis is raise the issue of concern and address the high-level nuclear waste storage site in issue in this country. And so I really--since we're very close to the end of the session, very few working days here left in Washington before the elections, I'm not sure how many more days I'll have available to come down to the floor--I'm finishing where I started over a year ago, going through the country and comparing nuclear waste sites to where they're at and where they should be. And why would I do this?

Well, I would do this to help educate you,

Speaker, on the fact that we have high-level nuclear waste stored throughout this country. And a lot of people do not know that we tried to address this in 1982 with passage of a law called the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. And in 1987, and I wasn't here then, but this Chamber, this body, this country said, not only do we want to find a way to store our high-level nuclear waste, but we want it placed in a mountain, underneath a mountain in a desert. And that place is called Yucca Mountain.

Now, since that time we've spent about $15 billion over 30 years investigating, doing the scientific studies to see if Yucca Mountain, again, a mountain in a desert, is a suitable place to put high-level nuclear waste. I believe it is, but I'm not a scientist.

So what this Chamber did a couple of week ago is, in our appropriation bill, we asked our colleagues should we, as a national government, commit the final dollars to do the final scientific study to come to a final conclusion of whether Yucca Mountain is safe. Over about 326 of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, both Republicans and Democrats, from rural areas to urban areas, said let's keep going with the current public policy. Let's finish the study so we know if Yucca Mountain is indeed safe, and let's move to address our high-level nuclear waste and concerns throughout this country.

Why is that important?

Well, let's go to one site. Now, for you, Mr. Speaker, I've done this almost at least every month, probably every week we've been in session, going around the country at different locations from Tennessee to Illinois to Maryland, but where I started first is a very telling and educational location, and it's called Hanford.

Now, Hanford. I have a lot of colleagues and a lot of the new observers of our process here in Washington who sometimes think they should just shut down all government--stop spending, and don't have a Department of Energy. Sometimes you have to have a Department, and Hanford is a perfect example. Hanford is a legacy World War II nuclear waste site. We are still paying for winning World War II, and we are still paying for developing the nuclear weapons that stopped the war, especially in Asia. Obviously, the bombs dropped in Japan. And how are we paying for it? Well, we still have Hanford. I'll tell you that Hanford is right in the central, deep southern part of Washington State. This is the Columbia River.

So what do we have in Hanford?

At Hanford, we have 53 million gallons of nuclear waste on site. Now, this is not spent nuclear fuel. This is the chemical sludge--highly toxic and very nasty stuff--that was used to help, kind of refine uranium into the fuel needed to have nuclear weapons. There are 53 million gallons. If you've ever been by a refinery and if you've seen a tank farm with crude oil--you'll see these great big tanks where some might be 750,000 gallons and some might be a million gallons--that's what's at Hanford, but they're all buried underground. In these tanks are the 53 million gallons of this toxic sludge, and as I point to it here, some of it is leaking. Now, the waste is stored 10 feet underground because it's buried underground. It is 250 feet above the water table. Remember, some of this is leaking, and it's 1 mile from the Columbia River.

So I ask the question: Is there a better site?

I think the government, over the years, has said there is a better place to put this stuff. In fact, this stuff is being processed and placed into canisters to go to one location, and that location is Yucca Mountain.

Now, Yucca Mountain should have been opened years ago. What do we have at this site at Yucca Mountain?

Right now, there is no nuclear waste on site. The waste will be stored 1,000 feet underground versus 10 feet. The waste would be 1,000 feet above the water table versus 250 feet. The waste would be 100 miles from the Colorado River versus 1 mile from the Columbia River.

So I think the choice is fairly clear. Our promise to Washington State, like our promise to the nuclear utilities, was that, as they created this mess, we as a Nation--national government--would take it over and that we would safely store it in a single repository. That repository is here. However, we're not there yet.

The question is: Why aren't we there?

Because we have a Senate that is blocking the ability to have the final votes and to pay for the final scientific study to get this moving. And who is the majority leader of the Senate? Senator Harry Reid. But let's look at the Senators from the region. Where are they at on this issue? Who are the Senators who border the Columbia River? Well, it's pretty telling.

Senator Murray has voted ``yes'' for Yucca Mountain. Senator Wyden from Oregon has voted ``yes.'' Senator Merkley has a ``no stated position.'' We don't know where he's at, although I think it would be a very important issue for that area. Senator Cantwell voted ``no'' on moving the high-level nuclear waste from Hanford to Yucca Mountain.

Why is looking at individual Senators and where they're at on this position important?

Because there are 100 Senators. With the way the rules in the other Chamber work, they really have to have 60 to really move a bill on the floor, so I've been trying to do a tally of where these Senators are. Either in public statements or in having cast votes either in their Chamber or as former Members of the House, 55 say, yes, Yucca Mountain should be our long-term geological repository and that we should be taking all our nuclear waste and putting it in a safe, secure cave in a mountain in a desert. For 22, we don't know their positions, and that's a lot of Senators. For 23, we have ``nays.'' So, if Senator Cantwell would move from a ``nay'' to a ``yea,'' you're at 56. Then you really need only four more Senators, and there is a whole boatload. Some of them are up for reelection, and they haven't had a chance to make a public statement or to have a position on nuclear waste in 6 years.

What I find very confusing is that, in these 6 years, a lot of them come from States that have nuclear waste. Again, I like to talk about Hanford because this is Department of Defense waste that was created in developing the atomic bombs to win the Cold War--not the Cold War. Well, actually, they won the Cold War, too. They will say: a mutual assured destruction, an ability to have nuclear weapons to help protect Western Europe and to, really, protect the world. A lot of those weapons were created and developed right here at Hanford, but we still have the waste remaining. So we are looking for five more U.S. Senators to be able to move the bill on the floor and to pay for the final scientific study so as to keep our promise to the American people and to those who sacrificed land and location like Hanford.

The U.S. Government just kind of swooped in and said, We need this place. I think the story goes, We're going to do hydroelectric power. It's going to be cheap fuel because we're going to need a lot of energy. They displaced farmers. They took over the land, and we've left 53 million gallons of nuclear waste on site. We owe it to them to get it to a safe, secure location.

The Federal Government realized that in 1982 by passing a law called the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. The Federal Government then amended that law in 1987. In the years following, we moved diligently to finalize the preparations so that we could move forward. Then we hit a roadblock, and that roadblock was the election of President Obama, who made a promise to the majority leader of the Senate that we'll stop movement on Yucca Mountain--after 30 years, $15 billion, and no solution in sight. Now there is talk about, well, maybe we can do something else. I can guarantee you, if we do something else, it's going to take--what?--30 more years, and it's going to take $15 billion. At the end of that, we're going to come to the same conclusion where we're not going to have a solution.

So, when you hear people talk about interim storage, we have interim storage. Guess where it's at? It's around our major metropolitan areas. It's around Chicago. It's around Boston, Massachusetts. It's around Los Angeles. We have interim storage, and that's our nuclear utilities. Now we have interim storage in Hanford, Washington.

It is time for us as a body to man up--to accept our responsibilities, to finish the scientific study, and to have a long-term geological repository underneath a mountain in a desert so that we keep our promises and so that we protect this land for future generations.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the time and the diligence. With that, I yield back the balance of my time.

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