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Sandoval Undercuts Heller on Yucca Mountain, Predicts Renewed Push from the Trump Administration “After the Election”

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval warned Nevada officials this week to prepare for a renewed Yucca Mountain fight following the 2018 midterms, confirming many Nevadans’ fears that Republicans in Washington will keep trying to reopen Yucca for nuclear storage after the November election. Embattled Sen. Dean Heller grandstands about standing between Washington and nuclear waste coming to Yucca Mountain—but clearly, even Sandoval thinks Heller won’t be able to stop the GOP’s push for the project after the election. 

Las Vegas Review Journal: Sandoval urges officials to gear up to fight Yucca Mountain in 2019

Even though funding for licensing was stripped out of Senate bills, Sandoval said, “we need to anticipate something is going to happen after the first of the year.”

Sandoval said overwhelming House approval for a bill to streamline the licensing process, and Trump administration requests for funding for licensing hearings, make it likely Congress could move forward after the midterm election.


The Senate has stripped Yucca Mountain provisions out of legislation, a move that benefits Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, considered the most vulnerable GOP senator seeking re-election in 2018.

But despite the stalemate between the House and Senate, Sandoval and Halstead said Tuesday in Carson City that they expect a Trump administration push after the election to jump-start the licensing process on Yucca Mountain.

Sandoval isn’t the only Nevada Republican elected official singing this tune: in June, Congressman Mark Amodei admitted what we’ve all know for a while: Heller is irrelevant on Yucca Mountain, he’s just being protected by Mitch McConnell because of the “politics in the Senate race.” Senate Republicans are gearing up to abandon Heller on the issue shortly after the November election. Meanwhile, Sen. Schumer issued a joint statement with Sen. Cortez Masto this year that said they will work to ensure Yucca Mountain remains “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

Nevada State Democratic Party spokesperson Sarah Abel released the following statement:

“While Sen. Heller pretends he’s the only elected official who can prevent Yucca Mountain from moving forward, his own Republican allies in Nevada like Congressman Amodei and Gov. Sandoval keep admitting it’s not true. If Sen. Heller gets sent back to Washington and Republicans keep their majorities, President Trump and the GOP Congress will push him aside and start turning our state into a nuclear waste dump next year.”


National Journal: “Key GOP Senators Want To Abandon Heller On Yucca Mountain.” [National Journal, 5/9/18]

National Journal: “Heller Is Far From A Heavyweight In The Upper Chamber. […] Until The Outset Of The 115th Congress, The Now-Retired Top Senate Democrat And Senior Nevada Senator, Harry Reid, Staved Off Progress On Yucca. Few, If Any, Political Observers Think Heller Wields Similar Influence.” “But Heller is far from a heavyweight in the upper chamber. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval appointed Heller to the Senate in 2011, and the former House member and Nevada secretary of state won narrowly the following year. He largely steers clear of the limelight. Until the outset of the 115th Congress, the now-retired top Senate Democrat and senior Nevada senator, Harry Reid, staved off progress on Yucca. Few, if any, political observers think Heller wields similar influence.” [National Journal, 5/9/18]

National Journal: “Republicans Are Already Suggesting The Lame-Duck Session Following The November Election May Provide A Window For The [Yucca] Legislation.”  “And Republicans are already suggesting the lame-duck session following the November election may provide a window for the legislation. ‘We’re going to get this done. And there will be opportunities between now and November, or the day after,’ House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden told reporters this week. ‘Our goal is to get this to the president’s desk by the end of this Congress.’” [National Journal, 5/9/18]

Amodei Said Yucca Mountain Was Likely Dead Until After Heller’s Election, McConnell Would Keep Issue Off Senate Floor In Order To Protect Heller. “Amodei said Wednesday that the issue is likely dead until after Heller’s election as Senate Majority Mitch McConnell would keep the issue off the Senate floor in order to protect Heller from losing a vote on Yucca, which would need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. ‘I don’t think, when you’ve got a Nevada senate seat in a tight race, that the Senate is going to be doing Yucca because if [McConnell] thought he had the votes to kill it, then I would assume they would schedule it and let Sen. Heller be a hero,’ Amodei said.” [Nevada Independent, 3/15/18]

January 2018: McConnell Was Seen As Reluctant To Bring Up Yucca Mountain, An Issue That Would Harm Heller’s Re-Election Chances. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been seen as being reluctant to bring issues to the floor that could jeopardize Senator Dean Heller’s chances for re-election.” [Nuclear Fuels, 1/29/18]

Nevada Independent: McConnell Paused Action On Yucca Mountain Until After Heller’s Election In Effort Not To Undercut Heller’s Chances Of Re-Election. “Dean Heller claims he’s the only barrier between Nevadans and the revival of Yucca Mountain as a repository for nuclear waste. The question is whether he can be that bulwark during a difficult re-election campaign. […] For now, he may be right, given that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has an interest in maintaining the Republican majority and little desire to take an action that could undercut Heller. But after the election, whether the Senate would move on a long-sought plan to store the nation’s toxic nuclear waste in Nevada is an open question.” [Nevada Independent, 1/19/18]

December 2017: McConnell Was Expected To Shield Heller From Having To Vote On Yucca Mountain In Order To Preserve His Re-Election Chances. “The political calculus differs on the Senate side of the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to safeguard vulnerable Dean Heller of Nevada from a Yucca vote in order to increase his chances of reelection.” [National Journal, 12/10/17]

Despite His Claims To The Contrary, It Was Unclear Whether Or Not Heller Had Enough Political Capital To Stop Yucca Mountain From Being Re-Licensed. “‘I am the only person standing between Yucca Mountain happening and not happening. I am the only person that can stop that,’ Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said in a recent phone call with rural Nevada newspapers. […] Whether Heller, perhaps the most vulnerable incumbent up for re-election next year, actually has the power to stop the project remains to be seen.” [Energy and Environmental Daily, 11/7/17]

Amodei: “If Mitch McConnell Wants To Help Dean Heller Out” He Won’t Pass Yucca Mountain Until After The 2018 Election. “‘Reid had success because he was in leadership,’ Amodei said. ‘The question becomes ‘How do things go in the Senate now that Harry’s retired?’ ‘ Despite his expectations that the Yucca Mountain bill will pass the House, Amodei said he expects serious friction in the Senate because Republican Sen. Dean Heller is up for re-election. ‘If Mitch McConnell wants to help Dean Heller out, he shouldn’t have him launching a campaign with the Senate basically saying, ‘Yeehaw! Crank up the trains,’ Amodei said. Because of that, he added, he predicted that the Senate won’t move on the Yucca Mountain bill until after the 2018 election.” [Las Vegas Review Journal, 10/22/17]