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Nuclear Industry Rolls Out Red Carpet for Congress

May 3, 2002

Nuclear Industry Rolls Out Red Carpet for Congress

NEI Bankrolls Lavish Junket for Congressional Staffers as Yucca Vote Looms

LAS VEGAS ? Luxurious Las Vegas accommodations and wining and dining at an exclusive members-only nightspot await key staffers for several members of the U.S. House of Representatives this weekend, courtesy of the nuclear power industry, Public Citizen has learned.

The Nuclear Energy Institute is bankrolling the junket for 22 congressional staffers as the House prepares to vote next week on whether to override Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn?s veto of the Bush administration?s Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump designation. That designation was made despite several unresolved scientific and technical questions, growing concerns about the safety of transporting deadly nuclear waste across the country, and mounting evidence that Yucca Mountain, which sits on an aquifer and in an earthquake zone, is a dangerous place to store radioactive waste.

This weekend?s Las Vegas excursion is one of several that NEI, the industry?s powerful and well-heeled Washington lobby, has provided to members of Congress and their staffs over the past several months. Each trip reportedly includes a short visit to Yucca Mountain.

But the obligatory tour of Yucca Mountain appears more as a footnote in the program of this weekend?s fling that was circulated under the heading “Countdown to Vegas.” Staffers will enjoy world-class service and luxury at the Four Seasons Hotel. At $225 or more a night, the rooms are about double the typical cost of accommodations at major Las Vegas Strip hotels. Staffers also will attend a dinner at the House of Blues Foundation Room on the top floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort Sunday night. The club is accessible only to members and their guests, and membership fees range from $2,000 to $5,000 a year.

The NEI has been providing the Las Vegas junkets to staffers and members of Congress on nearly an ongoing basis for several months, during which staffers have reportedly enjoyed free drinks, free shows, golf and gambling.

“Unfortunately in our political system, money buys votes,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “The industry is clearly hoping that lavishing luxurious quarters and delectable meals on congressional staffers will buy influence with lawmakers and ultimately buy their votes on the Yucca Mountain project.”

When concerned citizens asked the DOE to allow them to accompany the congressional staffers on their tour of Yucca Mountain to help answer any questions and to monitor the information presented by the DOE, the agency was unhelpful.

“I was told that DOE would have to ask NEI for permission and they never got back to me,” said Peggy Maze Johnson, executive director of Citizen Alert. “It seems that the DOE is content to let NEI spoon feed to staffers the industry side of this issue only, and this decision is being influenced the ?old fashioned way? ? with lots of money.”

Added Lisa Gue, policy analyst for Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, “It is an embarrassment to democracy that on the eve of this important vote, members of Congress are sending their policy advisors to be pampered by nuclear industry largesse while the concerns of their constituents about deadly shipments of nuclear waste through their communities go unaddressed.”

For the nuclear industry, money apparently is no object. A recent Public Citizen report found that in just a single year, 2000, leading nuclear interests spent a staggering $25 million lobbying federal officials.

Scheduled participants in this weekend?s junket include staff from the offices of Reps. Thomas Barrett (D-Wis.); Charles Bass (R-N.H.); Robert Brady (D-Pa.); John Conyers (D-Mich.); Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.); Philip English (R-Pa.); George Gekas (R-Pa.); Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.); Felix Grucci (R-N.Y.); Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.); Ron Kind (D-Wis.); Peter King (R-N.Y.); Betty McCollum (D-Minn.); Scott McInnis (R-Colo.); William Pascrell (D-N.J.); Colin Peterson (D-Minn.); Thomas Petri (R-Wis.); Mike Rogers (R-Mich.); Paul Ryan (R-Wis.); Nick Smith (R-Mich.); Thomas Tancredo (R-Colo).

“Voters in the communities that these staffers purportedly serve have legitimate concerns about the dangers of this project,” Gue said. “But they don?t have a bottomless pit of money to lavish on influential congressional staff. In some instances, this trip appears to be a thank you gift for staffers who have already pressed their bosses to tow the industry line in the upcoming vote.”

The Yucca Mountain vote presents members of Congress with an opportunity to put public health and safety ahead of special interests by voting to uphold Nevada?s veto.