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Inside the Beltway

Washington politics and government with a New Mexico flavor

Pearce’s WIPP expansion bill falters in Senate

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waste drums underground at WIPP

Waste drums underground at WIPP

Rep. Steve Pearce’s attempt to allow the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad to accept transuranic nuclear waste from government sources other than the Department of Energy has run into a year-end roadblock in the U.S. Senate.

Senate and House negotiators reached agreement late Monday on a final defense re-authorization bill that does not include Pearce’s amendment – previously approved by the House – that would have spurred WIPP to ramp up its disposal of federally owned nuclear waste.

Most controversial amendments, including Pearce’s, were stripped from the final bill, which still approval of the full House and Senate to move to the president’s desl..  New Mexico’s U.S. senators – while not publicly expressing outright opposition to Pearce’s amendment – did not push for its inclusion in the final bill. In a statement provided to the Journal this morning, Pearce expressed displeasure over the House-Senate compromise that cut his amendment.

“The House unanimously passed this amendment five months ago —  it is unconscionable that the Senate would target this commonsense and uncontroversial proposal at the eleventh hour,” Pearce said. “The Senate owes an explanation to the people of New Mexico, who will bear the costs of this irresponsible decision.”

Pearce’s amendment would have allowed WIPP to accept transuranic nuclear waste from new government sources in addition to the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons defense programs for which WIPP was established. Transuranic waste includes material exposed to nuclear radiation, such as tools, clothing and gloves.

Pearce’s amendment, which mirrored a bill the southern New Mexico Republican introduced in 2011 and again earlier this year, was adopted by the House by a voice vote in June before the Republican-led chamber passed the defense authorization bill.

Pearce and some residents of the Carlsbad area had lobbied hard for passage of his amendment, citing preservation of existing jobs and the potential for new ones at WIPP. Critics of the proposal contend it did not meet the previously agreed-upon waste requirements at WIPP.

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