Good morning and welcome to this Budget Committee hearing. Our topic today is the Budget Implications of the Administration's proposal to close the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project.
I oppose the Administration's decision to terminate the Yucca Mountain project for two reasons. First, I am concerned that the federal government's failure to resolve the problem of nuclear waste disposal has significant implications for the federal budget. Second, it also means that nuclear waste that belongs in a permanent repository is instead being stored indefinitely at sites including in my state and my district.
Radioactive waste is a by-product of our nation's energy production and defense. By law, disposing of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste is a Federal responsibility. However, because the Federal government is not meeting its obligation, waste is being stored indefinitely at more than 120 sites across the nation. In addition to the several sites that are in my district, South Carolina also has the Savannah River site, which stores more than 37 million gallons of nuclear waste as a legacy of the Cold War.
This approach is not what Congress had in mind. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 set up a system for dealing with this waste. That plan included a fee collected from utilities to help pay for taking the waste off their hands beginning in 1998.
After decades of study and analysis by experts, the government decided to have a single national nuclear waste repository. Later, Congress approved Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as the site, and the Department of Energy submitted the license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
However, after decades of analysis and decisions, and after billions of dollars in fees collected and appropriations made, the Administration decided last year to abandon the Yucca Mountain project.
This March, the Administration told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission it wanted to withdraw the license application for Yucca Mountain. The commission is in the midst of deciding whether to allow that. In addition, there are several pending lawsuits challenging the Administration's right to do that.
I have called for the Administration to instead move forward on Yucca Mountain as required by law. I have been joined in this view by others in Congress.
My goal for this hearing is to gain a better understanding of the budget implications of the Administration's proposal to close Yucca Mountain:
• How much have we spent on the project so far?
• How much will we need for the future?
• What happens if the project is indeed stopped?
• How much does the Federal government owe to these utilities for failing to meet its obligations?
I am doubtful that there are easy alternatives to the Yucca Mountain site. If we abandon Yucca Mountain, where are we going to find a suitable alternative?
We have several excellent witnesses today, and I want to thank them for their participation in this hearing.
First, from the Department of Energy, we welcome Under Secretary Kristina Johnson. She is accompanied by the Department of Energy's General Counsel, Scott Blake Harris. Dr. Johnson and Mr. Harris, thank you for joining us today.
Also on our first panel, from the Department of Justice, we have Michael Hertz. Mr. Hertz is Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division. Mr. Hertz, we thank you for being here today as well.
After we hear from these government witnesses, we will get a view of this problem from the state and local level. We will hear testimony from Mr. David Wright, who is Vice Chairman of the Public Service Commission of South Carolina. Mr. Wright, thank you for joining us.
In addition, the committee just received from the Congressional Budget Office updated estimates of funding and liabilities related to Yucca Mountain. CBO estimates:
• The nuclear industry has paid more than $17 billion in fees since 1983 for the Federal government to remove nuclear waste, and they contribute $750 to $800 million more each year.
• Another $14 billion in interest has been credited to the Nuclear Waste Fund.
CBO's statement also addresses how much has been spent on nuclear waste removal:
• More than $7 billion from the Fund has been spent -- a large percentage of it for Yucca Mountain.
• Congress has appropriated another $4 billion directly to deal with defense-related waste.
Finally, CBO tallies the budget costs of failing to meet Federal obligations:
• The government has paid more than $700 million in legal judgments and settlements with the nuclear industry.
• Potential total liabilities -- including the sums above -- exceed $13 billion.
Without objection, CBO's statement will be made part of the record.
Before turning to our witnesses for their testimony, let me turn to our Ranking Member, Mr. Ryan, for an opening statement.