Skip banner
HomeHow Do I?Site MapHelp
Return To Search FormFOCUS
Search Terms: yucca mountain, House or Senate or Joint

Document ListExpanded ListKWICFULL format currently displayed

Previous Document Document 8 of 131. Next Document

More Like This
Copyright 2000 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. 
(f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.)  
Federal Document Clearing House Congressional Testimony

September 28, 2000, Thursday


LENGTH: 3627 words




Thursday, September 28, 2000 Testimony of Thomas A. Schatz, President Citizens Against Government Waste Before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Thomas A. Schatz. I am president of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in government with one million members and supporters throughout the country. In the interest of full disclosure, I am pleased to inform you that Citizens Against Government Waste has not received any federal grant and we do not wish to receive any in the future. CAGW was created 16 years ago after Peter Grace presented to President Ronald Reagan 2,478 findings and recommendations of the Grace Commission (formally known as the President's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control). These recommendations provided a blueprint for a more efficient, effective and smaller government. Since 1984, the implementation of Grace Commission recommendations has helped save taxpayers more than $650 billion. CAGW has been working tirelessly to carry out the Grace Commission's mission to eliminate government waste. Recognizing that spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants and government defense activities was being stored throughout the country at sites that were not designed for that purpose, Congress enacted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) in 1982. The law mandated that the Department of Energy (DOE) begin accepting spent nuclear fuel at a permanent repository no later than January 31, 1998. The NWPA also created the Nuclear Waste Trust Fund to pay for the construction of the permanent repository. Customers who purchase electricity generated from nuclear power have deposited more than $17 billion in fees into the fund. The situation seems pretty straightforward: the law required DOE to construct a permanent facility to receive spent nuclear fuel before 1999. In order to pay for this, electrical customers would be charged a fee. Revenue generated through this fee would be put into a trust fund for this purpose. Unfortunately, DOE decided to ignore its legal obligation and has only spent $7 billion assessing the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada site. The remaining $10 billion from the so-called "trust fund" has been used to pay for other unrelated government spending. Yet, spent fuel continues to accumulate at 72 commercial and 5 of DOE's own facilities around the country, adding to the 40,000 metric tons currently stockpiled. DOE's obligation to take the fuel is not in doubt. Just last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that three utilities could maintain an action for breach of contract against the Department of Energy for failing to dispose of the nuclear waste that had been produced at the utilities' nuclear power plants. The court made it clear that this was not a contract dispute that could be resolved under the terms of the agreement between DOE and the utilities; it was a complete breach of the contract itself and therefore could be pursued in court. The court specifically rejected the government's contention that the failure to complete the nuclear waste repository by January 31, 1998 was covered under the avoidable delays clause of the contract between DOE and the utilities. For that clause to be effective, a specific type of delay had to occur, namely the delivery, acceptance or transport of nuclear waste. That does not cover the failure to build the repository, only delays that involve individual contractors and which arise during the performance of the contract. In other words, they would have occurred after DOE began to dispose of the nuclear waste. The Court of Appeals was very clear that Yankee Atomic's claim against DOE was broader than the improper delays in performing DOE's contractual obligations. The court agreed with Yankee Atomic that the government breached "a critical and central obligation of the contract - that it begin disposal of nuclear waste by January 1, 1998." The Court went on to say that "The breach involved all the utilities that had signed the contract - the entire nuclear energy industry. This decision opens up DOE to claims for breach of contract with every nuclear power company, leaving the government open to massive liability that will eventually fall upon the taxpayers. This is not the first time the courts have ruled against DOE in this matter. In 1996, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the department must proceed with nuclear waste removal and storage. In January 1997, a court ruled that DOE could not claim it lacked authorization to take the fuel. The federal courts also found that the government is now liable for paying for the on-site storage at nuclear facilities across the country. Those costs range from $34 to $56 billion, even as high as $80 billion. The DOE compliance date to accept the nuclear fuel has come and gone. Rather than complying with the law, DOE has instead delayed the projected completion date until 201 0. Not surprisingly, the president and vice president are cheering this open defiance of the courts. President Clinton and Vice President Gore have no substantive arguments, only politics on their side. DOE has adopted the current administration's all-purpose defense when caught in one its ubiquitous schemes -- it claims that is not responsible. The DOE has argued, incorrectly, that it is not liable to begin accepting the spent fuel until a permanent repository is operational. DOE continues to confiscate more than half a billion dollars a year from utility ratepayers all over the country and hasn't moved a single fuel rod. Numerous lawsuits have been filed in response to DOE's recalcitrance. Though the courts have consistently sided with the utilities, they have also refused to force DOE to move the fuel. The remedy, they say, is monetary damages. That's bad news for taxpayers and the 20 percent of the consumers who depend upon nuclear power for electricity. The utilities will be forced to construct temporary on-site storage facilities or to arrange to have the spent fuel moved elsewhere. Some may be forced to decommission early. And that doesn't include court costs. Cost estimates for future damages range from $50 billion to $80 billion, and are expected to escalate dramatically after 2007. DOE's approach to paying damages is to dip into the nuclear waste trust fund. In other words, the Clinton-Gore Administration wants to pay the costs of damages for its failure to perform out of the pool of money collected to pay for the storage of nuclear waste, a task it has so far failed to perform. Of course, this idea has been met with disdain by the nation's nuclear waste stakeholders (states' attorneys general, public utility commissioners, nuclear utility companies, and ratepayers). They are appropriately enraged at DOE and the Clinton- Gore Administration for violating their legal responsibility, leaving millions of electricity ratepayers and future generations of taxpayers with massive, unexpected legal and infrastructure costs. Meanwhile, the spent nuclear fuel continues to accumulate, potential damages are accruing and the costs will almost certainly be paid by the taxpayers. The DOE's continued abdication of its duty lays the groundwork for the shutdown of nuclear facilities throughout the country as they run out of storage capacity. Given the massive stonewalling and contempt for the law by the Clinton-Gore Administration, one is forced to believe that this is the intent, rather than an incidental effect, of their policies. Of the 107 nuclear reactors sites, 8 5 will be out of storage capacity by 201 0. Since nuclear facilities have to plan at least five years in advance for the storage crisis, either by designing additional dry storage space or building new storage space. If these choices prove to be too expensive, the plant must be decommissioned, and the utility must find other energy sources to meet demand. It would appear, based on the administration's position, President Clinton and Vice President Gore would like nothing more than to pull the plug on the nuclear power industry. Of course, they have no fiscally responsible alternative to supply the 20 percent of the nation's energy now provided by nuclear power. It's time for the Clinton-Gore Administration to stop holding the American people and much of our nation's energy supply hostage to their political whims and their friends in the environmental movement. DOE scientists have performed rigorous scientific testing to determine Yucca Mountain's suitability. They have strongly made the case that it is the best location to place and store the nation's spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. In December 1998, a favorable Viability Assessment of Yucca Mountain was made which reviewed the site's suitability as the permanent containment of the nation's spent nuclear fuel. In July of 1999, DOE submitted a favorable Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on Yucca Mountain. The EIS reported that the DOE's preferred course of action is to construct and eventually close a geologic repository for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. Alongside the positive appraisals of Yucca Mountain, the EIS concluded that the cost of inaction and maintaining the status quo is unacceptable. DOE estimates the costs at Yucca Mountain, which include construction, transportation, and monitoring of the site for I 00 years, at $28.8 billion. In contrast, DOE's cost estimates for leaving the spent fuel where it is now, in temporary storage facilities at 72 commercial sites and 5 DOE sites, nearly doubles to between $51.5 and $56.7 billion over 100 years. The estimates are only the tip of the iceberg, however, since they do not include costs incurred by the utilities to build and maintain temporary storage facilities until the DOE can begin accepting the spent fuel at Yucca Mountain, now tentatively scheduled to start in 201 0. Taxpayers will bear these costs, one way or another. For example, should any of the utilities be forced to decommission their power plants prematurely due to DOE's failure to perform, they will have to replace that power. The courts could slap the DOE with damages for those costs. The utilities estimate that costs for temporary storage of the spent fuel could reach $8 billion. This is above and beyond the $16 billion ratepayers have already deposited in the nuclear waste trust fund. Continued delays are simply unaffordable and will only lead to massive monetary damages, increased infrastructure costs, and skyrocketing legal costs, all of which will be passed on to ratepayers and taxpayers. The federal government in 1982 made a legally binding promise to ratepayers, taxpayers, utility companies, and state officials to remove spent nuclear fuel that has accumulated at sites around the nation and store it in perpetuity at a central location. The DOE accepted tens of billions of dollars from electricity ratepayers to pay for those activities and has spent $6 billion. Studies show Yucca Mountain to be a safe and appropriate location for the permanent repository. Congress should be commended in trying to stop the delay and limit the increasing taxpayer liability being created by the Clinton-Gore Administration's obstructionism by approving S. 1287, Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, that was introduced by the chairman of this committee. S. 1287 provides a vehicle to prod the administration into action. The bill reiterates DOE's obligation to proceed with developing Yucca Mountain as the permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel. It authorizes the DOE to begin accepting spent fuel once the Nuclear Regulatory Commission signs off on the construction of the permanent facility at Yucca Mountain. It further reinforces the integrity of the nuclear waste trust fund, prohibiting DOE from tapping the money to pay for damages incurred through its failure to perform. It puts the regulatory authority for enforcing background radiation standards at Yucca Mountain where it belongs, with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has a more rigorous compliance process then the Environmental Protection Agency. S. 1287 also gives Congress some oversight over any future adjustment of the fee structure. By approving S. 1287 and sending it to the president, Congress sent a clear message: taxpayers will not tolerate an arrogant executive ignoring the courts and saddling future generations with tens of billions of dollars in monetary liabilities. Unfortunately, President Clinton vetoed the bill so that his administration can continue to flaunt the government's commitment, court decisions and the interests of the American people. Hopefully, another vote to override his veto will be held and enough members will support protecting the American taxpayers. The Clinton-Gore Administration should honor the commitment made to taxpayers, stop playing political games at the people's expense and stop blocking this legislation. This concludes my testimony. III be glad to answer any questions you may have.

LOAD-DATE: October 4, 2000, Wednesday

Previous Document Document 8 of 131. Next Document


Search Terms: yucca mountain, House or Senate or Joint
To narrow your search, please enter a word or phrase:
About LEXIS-NEXIS® Congressional Universe Terms and Conditions Top of Page
Copyright © 2002, LEXIS-NEXIS®, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All Rights Reserved.