- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2009


Chu rules out Yucca Mountain

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Thursday that the proposed Yucca Mountain site in Nevada no longer is an option for storing highly radioactive nuclear waste, brushing aside criticism from several Republican lawmakers.

Instead, Mr. Chu said the Obama administration thinks the nearly 60,000 tons of waste in the form of used reactor fuel can remain at nuclear power plants while a new, comprehensive plan for waste disposal is developed.

Mr. Chu’s remarks touched off a sometimes testy exchange with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, Mr. Obama’s rival for president last year. At a hearing, Mr. McCain and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, said the decision not to pursue the Yucca Mountain project threatens the expansion of nuclear energy because the government can give no assurance on waste disposal.

“What’s wrong with Yucca Mountain, Mr. Chu?” Mr. McCain asked at an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on support for scientific research.

“I think we can do a better job,” Mr. Chu replied.

Mr. McCain asked whether it was true that Mr. Obama also views Yucca Mountain as no longer an option.

“That’s true,” Mr. Chu replied.

“Now we’re going to have spent fuel sitting around in pools all over America,” shot back Mr. McCain.


GAO: 2010 census behind schedule

With the 2010 census fast approaching, computer glitches, operational missteps and ballooning costs could overwhelm the government’s ability to conduct the once-a-decade count of the nation’s population, congressional investigators said Thursday.

Reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) show that critical preparations for the 2010 census are behind schedule and that the Census Bureau has no clear strategy for improving the count of hard-to-reach minorities.

Testifying in House and Senate hearings, GAO officials also said the agency was suffering because it lacked a permanent director and it needed to do a better job of hiring trained staffers who could manage a budget and handle information technology systems.

“They are under the gun,” said Robert Goldenkoff, GAO’s director of strategic issues.

The GAO’s comments are the latest to highlight difficulties for the census, which now costs $14 billion and has been beset by partisan bickering.

Thomas Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau’s acting director, told Congress that the agency was taking steps to fix some of the mistakes and remained confident that preparations were on track. He noted that the bureau was training 140,000 employees for address canvassing, the first major operation in the 2010 census, which begins later this month.


Agency ceases use of debt collectors

The Internal Revenue Service is eliminating a program that uses private debt collectors to go after tax delinquents, an agency spokeswoman confirmed Thursday evening.

The decision came after the IRS concluded a performance review and determined that IRS employees could better do the work. The program is relatively small, bringing in a little more than $20 million a year since it was started in 2006. But it has caused big political headaches for the IRS.

The union representing IRS workers and the National Taxpayer Advocate oppose the program, as do some Democrats in Congress.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, blasted the decision to end the program, saying the IRS was caving in to “union-driven political pressure.”


Franken requests lawsuit dismissal

ST. PAUL, Minn. | Democrat Al Franken is calling for full dismissal of Republican Norm Coleman’s election lawsuit challenging the Minnesota Senate recount.

The motion for dismissal was filed Thursday morning and could be argued Friday. It contends that Mr. Coleman has failed to meet his burden of proof.

The motion goes point-by-point through Mr. Coleman’s lawsuit and disputes the validity of the former senator’s claims on double-counted ballots and other irregularities.

The filing says Mr. Coleman has failed to show the vast majority of rejected absentee ballots it wants counted were properly cast. It whittles the pool of Coleman-requested ballots down to nine, and attaches qualifications to some of those.


Obama citizenship challenge ridiculed

A federal judge Thursday threw out a lawsuit questioning President Obama’s citizenship, lambasting the case as a waste of the court’s time and suggesting that the plaintiff’s attorney may have to compensate the president’s lawyer.

In an argument popular on the Internet and taken seriously practically nowhere else, Mr. Obama’s critics argue he is ineligible to be president because he is not a “natural-born citizen” as the Constitution requires.

In response last summer, Mr. Obama’s campaign posted his Hawaiian birth certificate on its Web site. But the lawsuit argues it is a fake and that Mr. Obama was actually born in his father’s homeland of Kenya, even though Hawaiian officials have said the document is authentic.

“This case, if it were allowed to proceed, would deserve mention in one of those books that seek to prove that the law is foolish or that America has too many lawyers with not enough to do,” U.S. District Judge James Robertson said in his written opinion.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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