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Yucca Mountain Recommendation Tainted by Undue Influence of Nuclear Industry Lobbyists

April 1, 2002

Yucca Mountain Recommendation Tainted by Undue Influence of Nuclear Industry Lobbyists

Science Smothered Under a Mountain of Lobbyists, Report Says

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Nuclear industry money and lobbyists may have biased Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham?s controversial recommendation that a nuclear waste dump be developed at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, according to a report released today by Public Citizen.

The report, which analyzes nuclear industry campaign contributions to Abraham and the lobbying expenditures of top contributors, concludes that Abraham?s site recommendation is not a responsible, science-based policy assessment but “a bill of sale to the well-funded nuclear industry lobby.”

In February, Abraham formally recommended that the proposed nuclear waste dump be built and President Bush concurred. (Bush himself received nearly $300,000 from the nuclear industry for his presidential bid.) Nevada?s governor has pledged to veto the plan, but Congress could override the veto. A congressional vote is expected late this spring.

“President Bush and Spencer Abraham are trying to fool the public when they say the decision to dump waste at Yucca Mountain is based on science,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “When it comes to the administration’s nuclear waste policy, it’s as if every day is April Fool’s Day. Unfortunately, the only people who are laughing are nuclear industry executives and their handsomely paid lobbyists.”

The report discloses that the nuclear industry contributed $82,728 to Abraham during the 2000 election cycle, when he was a U.S. senator, and spent even more money lobbying on issues dear to the industry?s bottom line, including the ill-conceived nuclear waste dump proposal. In 2000 alone, leading nuclear energy interests that helped bankroll Abraham?s unsuccessful Senate campaign spent more than $25 million to hire some of the highest-powered lobbyists in Washington, D.C., including top officials from the Reagan and Clinton administrations, records show. Eight of the lobbying firms hired made Fortune magazine?s recent list of the 20 most influential firms in Washington.

The nuclear industry is doling out so much cash because it is itching to build new power plants and needs a place to store nuclear waste. But Yucca Mountain, the only site under consideration for the proposed repository, lies in an earthquake zone and atop a drinking water aquifer. Also, storing waste there would require shipping it through almost every state, creating rolling radioactive hazards for communities everywhere and creating a network of vulnerability amid heightened national security concerns.

“This unsafe project cannot be justified,” said Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen?s president. “It is unconscionable that the money the nuclear industry is spending to lobby in support of this dangerous dump comes from the working families who pay power bills and whose communities may be jeopardized when this deadly waste goes rolling through.”

Public Citizen?s report, Yucca Mountain Bought and Sold, shows that:

  • The pro-repository nuclear power interests that bankrolled Abraham’s 2000 campaign spent $25 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies in 2000 ? nearly a half-million dollars every week.?
  • ?In addition to their in-house lobbyists on staff, Abraham’s close nuclear friends employed 53 independent lobbying firms, for a combined total of 199 individual lobbyists. More than 80 percent of those lobbyists reported on disclosure forms that they were lobbying on nuclear waste legislation, Yucca Mountain appropriations or closely related issues.
  • Some of the lobbyists themselves contributed to Abraham’s 2000 campaign, including Winston & Strawn, the law firm that had to withdraw as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Energy Yucca Mountain project last year when it was revealed that the firm was lobbying for the Nuclear Energy Institute in a blatant conflict of interest.
  • Nearly half the lobbyists hired by Abraham?s top nuclear contributors previously worked for the federal government. The roster includes seven former members of Congress; former acting Energy Secretary Elizabeth Moler, who also was former chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Gregory Simon, the chief domestic advisor to former Vice President Al Gore; Haley Barbour, political affairs director in the Reagan White House and former chair of the Republican National Committee; and James Curtiss, who served on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“Abraham attributed his Yucca Mountain recommendation to compelling national interests, but he should have said compelling special interests,” Hauter said. “No wonder they call it nuclear power.”

Click here to view the report.