President Donald Trump and his administration have no plans to use Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository, according to Mark Menezes, the current under secretary of energy and the president's pick to be the next No. 2 at the U.S. Department of Energy.
"Let me be very clear about this," Menezes said Wednesday during his U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee nomination hearing. "The president has been very clear on this."
The under secretary in his remarks applauded and supported Trump – who has vacillated on the matter in the past – "for taking action when so many others have failed to do so."
The president's fiscal year 2021 budget blueprint, trillions of dollars, included no money for Yucca Mountain and, instead, emphasized alternative, innovative approaches for the long-term, safe storage of nuclear waste and spent fuel. Previous Trump budget requests included $120 million and $116 million for the mothballed Nevada repository.
Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you! Congress and previous Administrations have long failed to find lasting solutions – my Administration is committed to exploring innovative approaches – I’m confident we can get it done!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 6, 2020
Yucca Mountain, relatively near Las Vegas, was identified decades ago as the nation's potential nuclear storehouse. Congress in 2002 approved of the remote locale. But the project soured under President Barack Obama and has failed to gain significant traction since, much to the disappointment of some South Carolina lawmakers.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., has described Yucca Mountain as a national solution to a national problem; U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has described it as a "world-class repository."
Menezes' Wednesday comments – at the behest of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat and staunch opponent of Yucca Mountain – are a dramatic pivot away from comments he made in February before a House energy subcommittee.
"What we're trying to do is to put together a process that will give us a path to permanent storage at Yucca," Menezes said at the time, describing the president as "frustrated" that "we have not been able to get the resources or the authorization that we need to be able to license Yucca."
Trump that same month – days prior to the House hearing, in fact – wrote on Twitter: "Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you!"
Cortez Masto on Wednesday said she wanted "to put this to bed" and give Menezes an opportunity to set things straight.