I squeezed into the front row of the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., two weeks ago for the oral arguments of the Yucca Mountain case. What I heard coming from the government lawyers, however, confirmed that federal agencies have become way too powerful for their own good. And that unchecked power is doing untold damage in Georgia and other states.
YOU MAY remember that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2011 abruptly stopped the licensure procedure of Yucca Mountain – the Nevada storage facility for nuclear waste. The reason for the shutdown? They didn’t have a reason. When they started to dismantle the program, there was $29 million in funds appropriated by Congress. There was a specific instruction from Congress in the law that required the review. Yet the chairman of the agency, a former staff member to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, effectively shut down both the program and the review process.
In an incredible display of agency chutzpah, the NRC’s counsel claimed the agency shut down the program office because the agency “knew” Congress would not provide funding last year, and will not provide funding again.
The problem, which more than one of the three judges suggested during the oral arguments, is that an agency cannot capriciously ignore the direct commands of Congress – even the president.
Why is this case so important to Georgia? First of all, our ratepayers have been charged almost $800 million in fees to build this Yucca facility, and it continues to rise every day.
YET ALL of our nuclear waste sits at our two plants – one in Baxley and the other in Waynesboro, near Augusta. Actually, the power companies have had to improvise and store the waste on-site at an additional cost – which they have passed on to customers.
My hope is that two of these three judges will decide for us – Georgia ratepayers – and mandate that the NRC follow the law and continue with the licensure process. Let’s then get this repository built and performing the job Congress intended for it to do.
(The writer is chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission.)