Sen. Domenici Twists Some Arms On Water Rights
August 7, 2007
WINDOW ROCK - Apparently it’s U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici’s way or the highway when it comes to garnering support for Indian water rights settlements and nuclear industry loan guarantees, and Office of Management and Budget officials and OMB director nominee, James Nussle.
After threatening to withhold his support for the president’s nominee to lead White House budget operations, Domenici said Friday that he had gained a commitment that the Bush Administration will not oppose his legislative plan to pay for the federal share of pending Indian water rights settlements in New Mexico.
The assurances were offered following last-minute discussions with WhiteHouse OMB officials and a personal meeting Thursday afternoon with Nussle.Domenici said he considers the assurance as a positive step since theadministration has been ambivalent toward his bill, S.1643, to establish afund to pay the federal portion of the Navajo Nation, Aamodt and Abeytawater rights settlements.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who authored legislation to settleNavajo water rights claims to the San Juan River Basin, will be at theGallup City Council Chamber at 10:30 a.m. Thursday to meet with localleaders to talk about the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project and to visitwith families that will benefit from the project . ( Due to a scheduling conflict, Senator Bingaman did not make it to Gallup on Thursday. Plans to reschedule the visit for Monday, August 13, but nothing has been finalized).
Domenici said he is taking the assurances from OMB seriously. “Sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option for OMB or any other federal agency. It's time to play ball and get these settlements moving,” he said.
Earlier last week, Domenici had warned the White House that his supportfor Nussle was conditional on OMB committing to be a more active participant in finalizing the New Mexico Indian water settlements and implementation of a Department of Energy loan guarantee program created by Congress in 2005.
Domenici’s legislation would authorize a 10-year funding source tofulfill federal contributions to the three pending New Mexico settlements.The plan would generate an estimated $1.37 billion. Costs of the settlementshave been estimated at $1.5 billion.
Steve Cone of San Juan Citizens Alliance said Domenici is “clearly a very small man, attempting to exact an extraordinarily large commitment from nominee Nussle in the form of a promise that he will betray the heart of OMB’s weighty obligations under the longstanding Criteria & Procedure policy.
“As a prerequisite to confirmation, Domenici demands that rather than adhere to sensible fiscal guidelines under the C&P, Nussle promise that OMB forsake established policy and expose federal taxpayers to many billions of dollars of liability in the form of settlements of Indian water claims.”
Domenici’s funding plan is opposed by Robert Johnson, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, and Patrick Ragsdale, director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Colorado River Board also has questioned the fairness of providing the Navajo-Gallup project a priority position to receive up to one-half of all funds designated for deposit into the new settlements fund.
Domenici voted to confirm Nussle Thursday after receiving a commitment to fulfill the vision of Congress with regard to the Department of Energy loan guarantee program.
“Though I have always been impressed with Mr. Nussle¹s qualifications and intellect, I was fully prepared to block his nomination because the Administration has failed to follow congressional intent to develop a robust, useful loan guarantee program at the Department of Energy. I’m pleased to report today that Mr. Nussle has agreed to address my specific concerns with DOE’s proposed rules,” he said.
During the meeting with Domenici, Nussle and OMB officials agreed to provide discretion to DOE to issue guarantees for 80 percent of a project's cost, even if it means guaranteeing 100 percent of a loan. Nuclear lobbyists say the industry will need as much as $50 billion in loan guarantees over the next two years.
The recently passed Senate energy bill would provide tens of billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees to builders of new nuclear plants. There are 28 new nuclear reactors on the drawing board, at an estimated cost of $4 billion to $5 billion each.
Ann Harris, a member of Sierra Club's National Nuclear Task Force and new national executive director of “We The People”, a nuclear employee safety advocacy group, said the loan guarantees are “nothing but corporate welfare to the nuclear mafia. The only way the nuclear industry can survive is if it’s subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer to the tune of 50 cents on the dollar,and in some cases, dollar for dollar.”
Harris, who worked in the nuclear industry and is also the Environmental Quality Strategy Team national liaison to Sierra’s National Radiation Committee, said senators like Domenici are pushing for corporate welfare.
“What they have done through the nuclear industry and DOE, is they have set up carte blanche to this industry that has never been caught doing anything correctly,” she said.
“I’ve been working in the industry and working with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Labor, and I can tell you, unequivocally, that this industry is not self-supporting, it can’t be, it never will be, and no amount of money that Domenici can pour into it is ever going to make a difference in whether they make money or not.”
Harris describes the loan guarantees as “a trough for the nuclear hogs to feed at.” “Domenici put in there a free ride for the nuclear industry. If the nuclear industry is so great, why doesn't he let it stand on its own?”
There are three nuclear reactors proposed for Texas. Under the Rio Grande Compact, water in the Middle Rio Grande Valley eventually flows to make up New Mexico's obligation to Texas. The Compact is administered by the Rio Grande Compact Commission in El Paso.
During testimony last month on the San Juan water settlement, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. said the Navajo settlement agreement includes specific provisions to firm the water supply for existing federal Reclamation projects, including the Chama.
“The San Juan-Chama Project provides drinking water for the cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. This transbasin diversion also helps New Mexico meet its compact obligations to the State of Texas and provides a supply of water that can be used for two separate water rights settlements involving the Pueblo of Taos and four northern Pueblos in the Aamodt litigation.
“In terms of protecting federal interests in New Mexico, including the San Juan-Chama Project, the importance of the settlement agreement to the United States cannot be overstated,” Shirley said.
Harris said, “The general public needs to understand that the nuclear industry has to have approximately 25,000 gallons of water per minute to cool their nukes, on a daily basis, every day. The water goes out the cooling towers as steam. It’s never going to be recovered.”
Harris has been working on nuclear energy issues for more than 25 years.”I have yet to catch this industry doing it the way they say they're going to. They say, ‘It’s too cheap to meter, it’s clean, it isn’t going to bother anybody’s health, they can control it, there’s no radiation exposure.’
“Every time they change the temperature in one of these facilities, there's a dump of radioactive air into the local community. It’s being spewed out into the air, it’s going into the local food chain, and then it’s going into people’s families and into the hospital.
“If Sen. Domenici wanted to do something really good for the people of New Mexico, if he wanted to leave a legacy, he would leave a place where people can go and get help once they have been dumped on by this industry,” Harris said.
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