A recent CATO at Liberty blog touting the safety of an underground nuclear waste storage project in Nevada that has stalled omitted one key fact: it was state resistance responsible for stopping its development.
The proposed nuclear waste storage facility below Yucca Mountain, Nevada sparked public outrage. There was widespread concerned about type of waste planned for storage under the Earth, and the hazards it could cause. Independent agencies and the feds issued all kinds of conflicting reports about its safety, raising the anxiety level. Straight answers were nearly impossible to come by.
According to Cato, a new report concludes the Yucca Mountain “is safe for use.” The article goes on to say the feds pulled the plug on the project and pinned the blame on Sen. Harry Reid.
In 2010, the Obama administration, with strong urging from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, decided to close down the Yucca Mountain site. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that the administration did not cite any “technical or safety issues” for the closure. The administration also did not include other options for storage, but instead set up a committee to study the issue. Apparently, Reid did not want the site in his state under any circumstances, regardless of any previous agreements between the nuclear industry and the government.
But Cato misses the real story. The feds originally planned on continuing with the project in spite of public backlash, but the state of Nevada shut it down by refusing to provide necessary water.
Harry Reid did not stop Yucca Mountain. State action did.
To resist the federal agenda, the state of Nevada filed several different lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). It didn’t stop there. Nevada invoked the anti-commandeering doctrine to prevent the feds from procuring the resources needed to make their plan work. Because Nevada controls the resources the feds needed to create this storage facility, it possessed leverage to force the federal government hand.
The Department of Energy (DOE) filed five applications to obtain the water it needed to begin drilling and constructing the facility. Each time, the state of Nevada denied the permits and refused to grant access to the water. Without water, the Yucca Mountain waste dump project was stopped cold.
A federal sided with the state. When the DOE filed a lawsuit against Nevada in U.S. District Court, the judge held that the states right to control its own water ‘is not a right to be taken lightly, nor is it a right that can cavalierly be ignored or violated by a federal agency.’
The judge was following the well-established anti-commandeering doctrine. Courts have consistently held since 1842 that the federal government cannot compel states to supply resources for federal projects or enforcement.
Whether you support nuclear storage at Yucca Mountain or not, this instance definitively shows that the states can push back against federal power. The feds are not monolithic. They cannot run roughshod over the will of the people.
We can apply this same strategy to the NSA spying center in Utah, or any of its other data hubs across the country.
The power is in our hands. We are led to believe that the only way we can affect change is by petitioning Congress or at the voting booth. That is not the case. We can work through the states and force the federal government’s hand. This can work on many issues, including NSA spying. If we can understand that this is the way America is supposed to work, we can successfully reclaim our privacy rights. It worked in Yucca Mountain, and it can work against illegal government spying too.