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Hardy: Time for Nevada to talk Yucca Mountain

It was one of the first questions I was asked on the campaign trail last year. Do I support storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain?

Even before I was asked about my plans for constituent services, how I planned to help veterans or seniors, or even ways to jumpstart the economy in a congressional district that desperately needs new jobs, I was asked about Yucca Mountain.

In Nevada, Yucca Mountain is an issue that gets ink. Longtime Nevadans know it’s a go-to question for local and national journalists covering candidates for office. It’s an issue that long ago lost its middle.

I ran for Congress because I didn’t think it was enough to complain about a broken system. I needed to do my part to fix it. I had no idea just how broken it was.

Somewhere along the line, too many members of Congress became more worried about re-election than they were about solutions. They became more interested in creating political advantages than dealing with important public policy. And they often want to tell us about the solution before they even understand the problem.

That’s what is wrong with Congress. And, frankly, it is what is wrong with the Yucca Mountain issue.

For decades, federal bureaucrats — in both Republican and Democratic administrations — have done everything they can to advance the Yucca Mountain Project. They’ve produced information, a lot of information. They’ve produced numbers, predictions and safety evaluations. Some of it has turned out to be credible, other parts not so much.

While these federal staffers were working hard to advance Yucca Mountain as the only viable option for the country’s long-term nuclear waste storage problem — and spending a lot of your money to do that — Nevada leaders consistently pushed back. Democrats and Republicans worked together to make sure that the federal government couldn’t cram permanent storage down our collective throat.

Let’s give credit where it is due: Nevada has held this off a lot longer than most people would have guessed.

After decades of posturing and a terrifying amount of our tax dollars, Yucca Mountain is now a stark reminder of everything that is wrong with Congress.

When was the last time someone from the Department of Energy or the White House asked the most basic of questions: Is there a scenario in which Nevadans would actually welcome nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain, northwest of Las Vegas?

The answer to that question may, of course, be that no such scenario exists. In that case, perhaps another state would like to be considered, and I will be the first in line to fight for the will of my constituents.

But what if the answer were “maybe”? What if a permanent investment were made in Nevada schools — the kind of investment that could take us from the bottom 10 percent to the top 10 percent?

What if Nevada were to receive a larger share of water rights from the Colorado River, or obtain greater leverage in our quest for better transportation and infrastructure funding across the state?

What if Yucca Mountain provided an incubator that allowed the Nevada System of Higher Education to become an international magnet for scientific research?

What would happen if Washington began to look at problems the same way we solve them around our kitchen table — with an understanding that no matter how deep the problem, no matter how emotional the issue, we can always find a solution?

Washington is broken. For far too long there has been too much talking and not enough listening.

Nevadans may never want nuclear waste stored inside Yucca Mountain. We certainly won’t let it be forced upon us.

But if the dialogue changes and a discussion is had — and safety standards are overwhelmingly met — we should at least be up for an honest conversation.

I will never cease to advocate for the people of my state, and my district, to have the deciding voice in this discussion. And as long as the discussion about Yucca Mountain is limited to whether or not the federal government will force it upon Nevada, I will stand in strong opposition.

The rut of political bickering shouldn’t be good enough. Nevada should always have the ability to say no. And I’ll always fight for that right.

Sometimes issues are deeper than a simple “for” or “against.” Sometimes it just takes an honest, in-depth discussion.

We could use a lot more of that in Congress.

This op-ed first ran in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on March 22. Rep. Cresent Hardy, a Republican, represents Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, which included all of Nye County. He serves on the House Committee on Natural Resources, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the House Small Business Committee.

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