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Perry says he does not have 'definitive answer' on Yucca

Washington (Platts)--19 Jan 2017 547 pm EST/2247 GMT


Rick Perry, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of energy, declined during a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday to say whether he supported moving the long-stalled Yucca Mountain repository project in Nevada forward but said that, if confirmed, he would look at alternatives to address the issue.

"I don't have a definitive answer," Perry said when Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, Democrat-Nevada, pressed him on the issue of restarting the Yucca Mountain project. "I'm going to be looking at the alternatives to address this issue," he said during the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

Related: Find more content about Trump's administration in our news and analysis feature.

"I am not going to sit here, in front of you, in a congressional hearing, and tell you: 'In no way will Nevada be a recipient of nuclear waste,'" Perry told Cortez Masto and the committee.

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Nevada's governors and congressional delegation for decades have opposed the high-level nuclear waste repository the US Department of Energy once proposed building in the state at Yucca Mountain, roughly 100 miles outside Las Vegas. Cortez Masto filled the vacancy created when Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and leading opponent of the Yucca Mountain project, retired from the Senate earlier this month. As a former Nevada attorney general, Cortez Masto already has spent years fighting the project.

DOE dismantled the congressionally mandated Yucca Mountain project in 2010, two years after it submitted a repository license application the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It said the state's opposition to the proposed disposal facility made the site unworkable.

SUPPORT FOR DOE

During the 3.5-hour hearing, Perry repeatedly expressed support for the work done by DOE and its national laboratories. "My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking," he said in his testimony.

Perry, a two-time contender for the Republican presidential nomination, had pledged to eliminate DOE during his first bid for the White House in 2011.

He told lawmakers that, if confirmed, he would work to protect the scientific research done by DOE. He also said that he believes the climate is changing and that some of that change might be caused by man-made activity. Trump has called climate change a "hoax."

The question is how to address climate change without affecting the economy, Perry said.

CONSENT-BASED SITING

Earlier in the hearing, Cortez Masto asked Perry whether he still supported consent-based siting -- a process by which state and local governments, as well affected communities and Indian tribes would have a say in whether a facility is sited. Perry had expressed support for the process during his 2011 primary race for president.

"Senator, I am very aware that this is an issue that this country has been flummoxed [about] for 30 years, and we have spent billions of dollars on this issue," Perry said. He noted that he respected Nevada's position and that, if confirmed, he would "work very closely" with Cortez Masto and other committee members to find a solution to the nuclear waste issue. "I think we can find a [nuclear waste] solution both in the interim and in the long term," he said.

Perry stressed throughout the hearing that as governor he gained experience managing large complex budgets, dealing with energy and economic issues and going "outside the box" in pursuit of bipartisan solutions.

--Elaine Hiruo, elaine.hiruo@spglobal.com

--Edited by Richard Rubin, richard.rubin@spglobal.com

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