Senate Panel Cuts Bush Yucca Budget Request

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WASHINGTON (AP) - A Senate spending panel cut President Bush's
2009 budget request for Yucca Mountain by more than $100 million on

Instead of the $494.7 million Bush proposed, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water agreed to $386.5 million.

That's the same funding the Nevada nuclear waste dump received in the 2008 fiscal year - the lowest in years.

Nevada lawmakers welcomed the news.

"It was no simple task to cut $109 million - 22 percent - of the $495 million budget requested by the president, but it will surely cripple the progress the Energy Department wants to make on turning our state into the nation's nuclear waste dump," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Reid was the top-ranking Democrat on the Energy and Water panel before giving up his committee assignments when he became Senate
majority leader last year.

The panel is now chaired by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. Asked after the vote why his panel didn't go for an even lower number, Dorgan said: "Putting a bill like this together is a series of compromises. ... It's not easy."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission received the full amount of funding that Bush requested, according to Dorgan, who said the agency would have enough money to process the Yucca Mountain license application that the Energy Department submitted last month.

Earlier this year a House spending panel approved about how much 2009 funding Bush had requested for Yucca Mountain, so the two figures will have to be reconciled. In recent years the lower figure that Reid supported has won out.

In a statement the Energy Department said, "The Yucca Mountain program has made marked progress over the last year with the submission of the license application to the NRC and urges Congress
to fully fund the President's FY09 budget request of $494 million to ensure this progress continues."

The government wants to entomb 77,000 tons of highly radioactive waste now stored at 121 sites in 39 states at Yucca Mountain. The dump, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is years behind schedule and
is not likely to open before 2020, according to the Energy Department.

Also Tuesday, Nevada's congressional delegation sent a second letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman seeking recusal of the law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP from working on the Yucca Mountain
license application.

Nevada lawmakers allege Morgan Lewis has conflicts of interest because it also represents nuclear utilities that are suing the government. The Energy Department's inspector general and the
Justice Department have criticized the process by which the firm
was hired.

The firm says it has segregated the work being done on the license application from its litigation against the government, and the Energy Department continued to defend the contract Tuesday.

"In its retention of the law firm, DOE properly exercised its authority to waive certain conflicts of interest and complied with all applicable rules and regulations," spokeswoman Angela Hill said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)