Las Vegas Sun

March 1, 2015

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Obama on Yucca

That John McCain is a fervent backer of Yucca Mountain is not in dispute.

So it was hardly surprising that Barack Obama’s first Nevada-specific ad of the cycle would be on the subject near and dear to every candidate who comes to Nevada and every media person who works here, but perhaps not so top of mind to those seeming irrelevancies known as voters.

What is surprising, however, is that the part of an interview with McCain highlighted in the ad, designed to indicate that the Arizona senator balks at shipping nuclear waste through his home state but is fine with its rolling down Nevada’s highways, appears to be quite unfair to the Republican. And that is no one’s fault but McCain’s.

Watching the interview with Sam Shad of “Nevada Newsmakers” from May 2007, it’s apparent McCain simply misunderstood his interlocutor. I don’t suggest that the Obama campaign realized this — although it is pretty obvious — but the exchange is truncated in the ad.

Check for yourself at (search for McCain), but I will save you the trouble if you prefer not to surf. Here’s the exchange in the ad:

Shad: “Would you be comfortable with nuclear waste coming through Arizona on its way, you know going through Phoenix, on its way to Yucca Mountain?”

McCain: “No, I would not. No, I would not.”

But the actual interview has McCain quickly saying all in one breath in answer to Shad’s query, “No, I would not. No, I would not. I think it can be made safe.”

Now why would McCain emphasize how the waste “can be made safe” if he weren’t trying to emphasize he would have no worries about the substance passing through Phoenix? Obviously, he thought Shad was asking him whether he felt comfortable with waste going through Arizona and answered too quickly. So the central point of the ad — that McCain would be wary of it in Arizona but not in Nevada — is simply false.

Now the irony gets richer: The reason McCain was so obviously saying exactly the opposite of what the ad says is because he was trying to show why he is so supportive of Yucca Mountain.

(And even richer: Shad is trying to get the ad pulled because “it is an attack without full context on Sen. McCain.”)

He had previously told Shad “that we have to have a waste repository and that Yucca Mountain is the place it can be made safe.” He also said if the dump doesn’t happen, “we will have a more dangerous situation in my point of view,” with on-site storage, which he called a threat to national security.

The man, quite simply, loves the idea. Or did in May 2007 before he was the presumptive nominee and needed the state he ignored last year. Now he is trying to fudge a little by saying it has to meet “the environmental and safety standards that are necessary,” as he told KLAS-TV’s Mark Sayre over the weekend. That’s the same “sound science” sop — and a meaningless one — President Bush and many others have used.

McCain simply was demonstrating his Yuccalove in that Shad interview, so of course he would be comfortable with nuclear waste going through Arizona. Why? It can be made safe!

Obama’s position on the dump also is worth noting here vis-a-vis the ad, which declares the Democratic contender “opposes opening Yucca.” Indeed, he has said so, although what he can do if it is licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is questionable.

Obama has no record of relevant votes on Yucca Mountain — he was not there for any of the Screw Nevada Bill iterations, nor for the final 2002 votes that sealed the deal with President Bush leading the way and Congress following.

Obama is full of promises and as Hillary Clinton — or is it McCain? — would say, he can give a good speech on Yucca Mountain, but how would he have voted? Remember Illinois is chock-full of nuclear plants and Obama’s ties to Exelon, a major contributor to his campaigns, have been documented in The New York Times and elsewhere. I am not sure that even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could have persuaded Obama to oppose Yucca had the presidential hopeful been in the Senate in 2002.

So with McCain, you pretty much know what’s going to happen on Yucca and with Obama it’s a gamble — a microcosm of the election, from some perspectives at least.

One last note on this subject: Even more than a year ago, McCain’s electoral calculation is clear when he reminded Shad, “The president of the United States supported Yucca Mountain and he was able to carry Nevada in the last election.”

We will soon know whether history repeats.

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