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Washington Examiner


Obama's bad bet on Yucca Mountain

September 22, 2008

By Max Schulz

Had George W. Bush lost even one of the several three-electoral-vote states he narrowly carried in 2000, Al Gore would have been sworn in as our 43rd president. This year's contest is shaping up to be extremely close, and once again even the smallest state could make all the difference.

Thanks to high gasoline prices, much of the 2008 campaign is being fought over whether to open the nation's coastlines to offshore petroleum exploration. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's convention speech was interrupted by chants of "Drill, Baby, Drill!" while Barack Obama has generally favored limiting domestic oil production.

To drill or not to drill has been the most potent issue in the campaign so far. But it's a completely different energy issue, dealing primarily with just one small swing state, which just might trip up Obama and tip the election to John McCain.

The state is Nevada, with five potentially critical electoral votes, and the issue is the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain 90 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

The federal government and its top scientists have identified Yucca Mountain as the best place to store the radioactive spent fuel from the nation's 104 commercial nuclear reactors. President Bush, backed by large majorities in Congress, affirmed that judgment in 2002.

Yet construction of Yucca Mountain remains in limbo, hindered by the vehement opposition of the Nevada congressional delegation (particularly Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid).

McCain supports moving forward with Yucca Mountain as a means to maintaining or expanding nuclear power's share in our energy mix. Nuclear power presently supplies 20 percent of the nation's electricity. Obama, despite generally positive words for nuclear power, vows to shut down Yucca Mountain if elected.

Obama is gambling that his anti-Yucca stance will put Nevada in his column. Conventional wisdom holds that Obama has taken the safer bet. Yet it's actually a risky strategy, based on the highly questionable assumption that Nevada voters oppose Yucca Mountain as fervently as do the state's elected officials. The last two presidential elections suggest they don't.

In 2000, Yucca supporter Bush took the state with more votes than opponents Gore and Ralph Nader combined. Those five electoral votes were the difference between victory and defeat.

Shortly after taking office, Bush pushed Yucca Mountain legislation through Congress, sparking fresh outrage from Nevada's political leaders. It didn't matter. In the 2004 presidential election, Bush again won the Silver State. Incredibly, he tallied nearly 39 percent more votes than four years before.

A big problem with Obama's reflexive Democratic opposition to Yucca Mountain is that he proposes no viable alternatives at a time when Washington is on the hook for an answer to the nuclear waste question.

Failure to come up with a workable solution throws a wrench into plans to revive nuclear power's fortunes just when voters are increasingly worried about climate change and over-reliance on foreign energy sources.

Without an alternative proposal, Obama's pro-nuclear comments are merely lip service. That could have ramifications in states other than Nevada. All signs point to a public and an investment climate increasingly supportive of nuclear power.

Obama is a savvy politician who for two years has run a nearly flawless campaign for the White House. He is also known to be a pretty good poker player. But with his opposition to Yucca Mountain, as with his dissembling on offshore drilling, he looks to have played the energy card all wrong. It just might cost him a big pot on November 4.

Original Source:



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