President Donald Trump at a rally in Las Vegas touted the lack of funding for Yucca Mountain in his latest budget blueprint, echoing a surprising tweet he sent more than two weeks prior.
"I also recently took action on an issue Nevada has been dealing with for over 30 years: Yucca Mountain. Do you know Yucca Mountain?" Trump said last week to rally-goers, who met the comments with applause and sign waving. "My budget stops funding for the licensing of waste storage at Yucca Mountain so that we can focus on positive solutions and for much better reasons and alternatives."
Exactly what those alternatives are is unclear. But both U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, who succeeded Rick Perry atop the Energy Department, and Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes, who recently contradicted the president on Yucca Mountain, have suggested the path forward involves interim storage.
"Why should you have nuclear waste in your backyard?" Trump said at the rally. "Why should you have nuclear waste in your backyard?"
Trump's previous budget requests have included millions for the fizzled nuclear storehouse about 100 miles northwest from where the president was speaking Friday. Getting Yucca Mountain back on track – the project halted under President Barack Obama – was at one point noted as a Trump administration priority.
More than two-dozen states across the country, including South Carolina, currently store nuclear waste.
The president's remarks last week came just before the Nevada caucuses, and, zooming out, were made as the 2020 presidential election draws nearer and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who opposes nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain, gains significant momentum.
Sending "our nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain would be a geological, environmental, and social disaster," Sanders said in a May 2019 statement.
Trump narrowly lost Nevada to Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The distinct lack of proposed funds for the nuclear repository – first identified in the 1980s and further approved in 2002 – has pleased Nevada's elected officials, though U.S. Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., has indicated the president could be pandering to voters.
"When you ran in 2016, you said you opposed Yucca. Then, once elected, you wanted to fund it," Lee wrote on Twitter, responding to Trump's own message. "Now, election season is here and you're against Yucca again."
Trump's daytime get-together at the Las Vegas Convention Center was billed as a campaign rally. Brad Parscale, Trump's 2020 campaign manager, on Twitter said the event identified more than 15,000 voters, 73% of whom were from Nevada.