In March, U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-3rd District, accepted a leadership position on a GOP-led coalition that champions an “all-of-the-above” approach toward domestic energy policy.
Duncan, the Upstate lawmaker who has emerged as a leading voice in the movement to restore funding for construction of a national nuclear waste disposal site in Nevada known as Yucca Mountain, this week voted against a pair of high profile energy bills, including a measure that would bar offshore drilling on the East and West coasts by prohibiting the U.S. Department of Energy from preleasing tracts on the Atlantic and Pacific outer continental shelves for oil and gas projects.
He also voted against a similar bill related to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
In floor remarks, Duncan said the legislation, H.R. 1941 sponsored by U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-1st District, “undermines the United States’ energy dominance and makes us strategically weaker as a nation.”
Duncan, co-chairman of House Energy Action Team and a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said locking out 94% of the Continental Shelf for exploration and development will drive the costs of oil and natural gas.
“Opening up the entire Atlantic OCS (outer continental shelf) could open up nearly 265,000 new, high paying jobs, 22 billion a year in private investment and generate almost 6 billion in new revenue for the government within 20 years of the initial lease,” Duncan said on Tuesday.
Lawmakers approved the Atlantic and Pacific measure 238-189, while a bill to block drilling in the Gulf of Mexico near Florida was approved 248-180.
“If we don’t act, drilling rigs could soon appear on our beaches,” said Cunningham, the lead sponsor of the bicoastal drilling ban. Cunningham won his seat last year in part because of his opposition to drilling off South Carolina’s coast.
“The Low Country (near Charleston, S.C.) is a force to be reckoned with, and we stand firm in our opposition to drilling off our shoreline,” Cunningham said. Offshore drilling could ruin the state’s tourism-based economy, “ruin our vibrant natural resources” and harm the state’s “unique way of life,” he said.
Duncan said royalty sales to the federal government from oil and gas lease sales has generated $73 billion that helps to finance initiatives such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“Many people on the other side of the aisle who support this bill also supported the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” Duncan said, pointing to the $893 million it received from offshore drilling revenues, with the state collecting $1.5 million of that.
“So how do the supporters of this bill intend to make up nearly all of the funding for a program they supported that they would be cutting with this bill,” Duncan said of H.R. 1941. “Blocking offshore development would not only significantly harm our economy, but it would increase dependence on our adversaries for energy.”
Duncan also took aim at U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat running for president who said during a stop in Aiken last month that Yucca Mountain may not be a viable long-term storage option because of seismic instability.
Right now, spent nuclear material is stored at 121 locations in 39 states — including the Oconee Nuclear Station, VC Summer and Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Western lawmakers have long opposed attempts to build out Yucca Mountain. On March 5, members of the state’s federal delegation introduced the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, aimed at blocking the storage of nuclear waste without public approval.
Though not in his district, Duncan said the large amounts of nuclear waste being stored at the Department of Energy-controlled Savannah River Site — which spreads across 310 square miles in Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties — presents a threat to nearby population centers.
With 8,000 tons of vitrified waste — material that’s been converted to glass — and 35 million gallons of liquid byproduct ready for transportation to Yucca Mountain, Duncan said South Carolina officials have a vested interested in the project.
“Whether or not Senator Elizabeth Warren likes it, Yucca Mountain is the law of the land. Her recent comments in Aiken on the matter were uneducated and lacked basic facts on Yucca Mountain. It’s a policy extremely important to South Carolina ratepayers who have paid $3.1 billion to have nuclear waste moved to Yucca Mountain — the nation’s permanent geological repository. It’s past due for the federal government to fulfill this promise to the American people,” Duncan said in a statement on Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.