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Nevada Legislature

Although Nevada's legislature is bicameral and operates fairly close to the federal model, it differs from most states in that it meets only every two years. Biannual sessions combined with the independent streak of Nevada's population and the state's low population density give these sessions a unique populist flavor. In Nevada's citizen legislature, debate over Yucca Mountain has taken many unexpected turns, events which serve as windows into the dominant political power structure within the state.

The 1993 legislative session saw the introduction of Senate Concurrent Resolution 57, which illustrates the legislative dynamics in play on the Yucca Mountain issue. A relatively innocuous statement, the resolution said :

"We support the efforts of the legislative committee on nuclear waste to clarify the compensation and benefits due to the host state for accepting the repository." [ S.C.R. 57]

Adamant opposition to this resolution in the legislature led to its lopsided defeat at the end of the session. However, the attempt to stifle all debate on Yucca Mountain speaks volumes about the tactics and goals of the opposition armies.

To understand what happened at the 1993 legislature, it's necessary to backtrack to 1989, two sessions previous. That year, the legislature passed two resolutions, AJR-4 and AJR-6. AJR-4 was a resolution that expressed adamant opposition to the repository coming to Yucca Mountain. The vote on that resolution was 19 to 2 in the senate and on the assembly side, the vote was 36 to 5 with 1 abstention. The companion resolution was AJR-6, which said that Nevada would not approve of the withdrawal of land by the federal government for placing a repository there.

Over the next years a number of things occurred which convinced the nuclear industry that they might attempt a counter resolution in the 1993 legislature. First, the Nevada Initiative, the public relations and political campaign sponsored by energy industry trade organizations beginning in 1991, had muted at least some of the opposition to negotiating for benefits from Yucca Mountain.

Lobbyists hired to represent the nuclear industry as part of the Nevada Initiative beginning in 1991 had tremendous impact on legislators. The industry was precise in who they hired and picked Nevadans known to be very powerful lobbyists. Ed Allison, representing the American Nuclear Energy Council, had old family ties in Northern Nevada and had lobbied for a number of different interest groups in the state, splitting his time between Washington D.C. and Carson City. Two former legislative leaders also lobbied for ANEC: Jack Jeffries who previously was majority leader of the assembly, representing labor and Bob Berengo, a former speaker of the assembly and now a powerful lobbyist.

One reason the industry thought they had a chance to pass a resolution in the 1993 session was that the Nevada budget was stretched to the limit. Rather than raise taxes to cover a $130 million deficit, Governor Miller made retroactive cuts in the 91-93 budget, chopping everything from mental health services, to university funds, to K through 12 teacher loads. In an atmosphere in which the electorate was saying no to taxes, Miller was certainly under pressure to provide alternative revenue sources. The nuclear power industry's lobbyists pushed the position that there were millions of dollars that the state would receive in return for being the host to the repository, perhaps the entire shortfall. This began to have a lot of appeal for a number of politicians who didn't want to raise taxes, but who also didn't want to have to cut popular social programs.

Labor unions in the state had come out wholeheartedly for the repository, seeing it as a source of jobs, especially in light of the looming closing of the Nevada Test Site. Legislators opposed to Yucca Mountain argued that the two issues were not comparable and that the nine thousand jobs lost at the Test Site would not be replaced by the few thousand jobs at Yucca Mountain for study and construction. They also argued that only a few workers would be needed to watch nuclear waste after the site was completed.

Labor is traditionally tied to Democratic candidates, so unlike in the 1988 legislature, this began to weaken the opposition to the repository that was held so strongly by Democratic elected officials. Consequently, some politicians who before may not have been for the repository began to be less afraid to come out and say they were willing to accept the site. Because the political heat had been so hot previously, proponents had remained quiet in the background, but now they began to come forward on the front line.

In the senate, opposition to the resolution was led by Ernie Adler, from Carson City, and Matt Callister and Dina Titus from Southern Nevada.

Dina Titus, Nevada senate minority leader and UNLV political science professor, gave a short recap of the legislative battle against Resolution 57 to members of Citizen Alert, at a UNLV meeting September 21, 1993. The speech contained significant admissions by Titus that ANEC's campaign and the work of its legislative lobbyist, Ed Allison, had been effective. This contradicted the party line of Bob Loux, the governor and Senator Bryan that the political alliance was holding firm. According to Titus:

"So anyway, this has gone on since '89 up until the current session. And you can feel the difference. You can see all those that are out there, people aren't quite as excited about it. More people are being swung over to the other side. So they figured, well, let's give it another shot. Let's see if we can turn around those resolutions, that were passed two sessions ago, and that's exactly what they tried to do during this session." [Nev. Sen. Dina Titus; speech to Citizen Alert, 9/21/93]

Titus' speech also pointed to the effectiveness of Citizen Alert's mail and telephone campaigns against the pro-Yucca Mountain resolution and the lack of a countering force from proponents of Yucca Mountain:

". . . .And we got busy when we knew it was coming trying to round up votes. To vote no on whatever resolution they came with, regardless of what it said. Now we had a lot of help in doing this that came from y'all. Now it came in the form of these awful green cards. Whoever chose this color, it was a smart choice because you can't not see these. And all up and down the halls, and in everybody's offices, and all the mailboxes you saw these constantly. I mean, these are all the ones I got (about two hundred), and they told them not to bother to send them to me, because that was preaching to the choir, I was already on their side, send them to people where they might have a chance. But these make a tremendous difference, so I thank you for doing that and I compliment you on that because it was very effective. . . . . " [Titus; 9/4/93]

Interestingly, the anti-Yucca Mountain forces tried their best to crush all debate on this issue. When the resolution was introduced, Titus made the motion to table the measure, feeling that would kill it. Senator Bill Raggio, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, called in a caucus of Republicans with three Democrats and the motion to table failed.

Speaking for the resolution were Joe Neal, Ray Schaeffer, Lawrence Jacobsen, Tom Hickey, Ray Rawson, and Bill O'Donnell. Senator Neal, a gruff representative from North Las Vegas and himself a test site worker, led the charge:

". . . Today, I am reminded of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar when he was accused of political ambition, which was a crime among the Romans at that time. Marc Anthony was allowed to read Caesar's will, after his assassination, which stated that he had left all of his property to the people of Rome, which in the eyes of the people of Rome made Caesar noble again. Brutus, who took over the reins of government,became the enemy of the people and found himself on the battlefield with Marc Anthony's and Octavius' armies marching toward him. And knowing he had missed his opportunity for greatness said these words: "There'll come a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the crest would lead to good fortune, omit it and all the voyages of our lives will be leftwallowing in the shadows." This is what this debate, involving the Yucca Mountain repository is to determine, whether or not we have missed the tide of benefits.

We have allowed certain individuals to take center stage and tell us what benefits we could receive. We thought for a while that they were correct, but now we are beginning to find that it is possible that there were greater benefits than those of which we have been told. . . ." [Senate Daily Journal, July 1, 1993, Remarks from the floor regarding S.C.R. 57]

Speaking against the resolution were Dina Titus, Ernie Adler and Matt Callister. The negative hyperbole offered by Senator Titus rivaled the literary eloquence of Senator Neal:

"My final and most important reason for opposing this resolution is that we must not take any action which might be interpreted as implied consent. . . . . Well this is one of those issues where you can't have it both ways. You either take the thirty pieces of silver or you do not. You either barter away the future of this state or you fight to save it.

"I strongly urge you to do the latter. Because if you don't and this resolution passes, we might as well build a statue on the border of Nevada, similar to one that stands in New York Harbor, welcoming thousands of immigrants to this country. But, instead of a lady with a beacon who cries out "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses longing to breathe free, we should make ours a giant garbage can and inscribe on its base "Give me your vile, your poisonous and deadly toxins, yearning to roam free". Because if you pass this resolution, that is the message you will be sending forth from Nevada for generations to come. Please, please think long and hard before you condemn Nevada to such a fate." [Senate Daily Journal, July 1, 1993, Remarks from the floor regarding S.C.R. 57]

Obviously, this was a very emotional debate. The house was packed, with members from the assembly side, lobbyists and the press. When the vote was taken, the resolution was defeated fourteen to seven. This was rightly viewed as a tremendous victory for the opponents of Yucca Mountain. ANEC attempted to claim a minor victory, arguing that at least the resolution was heard. This was not much of a victory, for it demonstrated that the political opponents of Yucca Mountain were , in the words of Dina Titus, going to "vote no on the resolution they came with, regardless of what it said."

Indeed, the need to defeat the nuclear lobby at all costs was so intense that even members of Senator Bryan's staff entered the fray. According to Titus in her speech to Citizen Alert:

"Maureen Lockhart from Senator Bryan's office. He just kind of put her on assignment in Carson City. And she was down there, we were tracking everything, every possibility, what was going to happen, she was running around with a little vote count trying to see who was going to vote how." [Titus; 9/4/93]

The propriety of Senator Bryan's staff member lobbying at the state level was dubious and questions were raised about whether Maureen Lockhart ever registered as a lobbyist and . This does not diminish the fact that an extensive grass roots and savvy political effort was expended by those opposing Yucca Mountain to make sure they crushed the nuclear industry-backed resolution. Unfortunately, Titus et.al. succeeded in crushing the nuclear resolution not by winning the substantive debate over Yucca Mountain, but by closing off discussion of the issues. Not only did they legislatively defeat resolution S.R.57 which asked for an investigation of possible benefits, but they also succeeded in cutting off debate in public forums. Titus acknowledged her fear that the industry's education campaign, especcially its open tours of the repository site, might actually work:

"You've had a tremendous public relations effort by the industry, at trying to shape public opinion, trying to screen public opinion, to be more favorable and thereby affect the legislature to be more favorable. And you see this manifested in a number of ways. In all the forms of the media; you've heard the ads on the radio, you saw those terrible ads on TV where the person is holding the nuclear pellets saying this won't hurt. Remember those? The newspaper ads, big ads, full page ads placed in all the newspapers by ANEC. Tremendous amounts of money spent on this kind of advertising. You've also seen in the stepped up number of visits that DOE and contractors are taking to the test site. Now just about anybody can go out there and catch a bus and ride out to Yucca Mountain and tour the place. This is a PR effort to familiarize you with it, so you'll see how desolate it is. To capture you on a bus and give you their side of the story. That's all that is, and they're available to any group, anytime you want to go. " [Titus; 9/4/93]

Apparently, Titus and others in the opposition hoped that citizens would not take the tour of the repository, perhaps believing ignorance is bliss. Stifling debate is not particularly fair or democratic, though it is an effective and legitimate political tactic. Indeed, Titus and her allies against Yucca Mountain have specifically targeted Bill O'Donnell, Joe Neal, Lawrence Jacobsen, Tom Hickey and others who supported the ANEC resolution and are campaigning against them on this issue. Thus, the 1994 election cycle promises to keep the Yucca Mountain debate in the center of the political stage in the legislative elections.