Yucca Mountain follies looking risky for Reid

If Doc Hastings and Patty Murray are right -- and we think they are -- the shutdown going on at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is illegal.

Under the two lawmakers' theory, agreed to by 91 members of Congress, the Department of Energy is using money it doesn't have to do work it is not authorized to do and all in defiance of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Congress.

The effort is to close operations at the nuclear repository. The justification DOE offers is an odd one, if we understand it: They will close the site because Barack Obama said he would do so back when he was a senator campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president.

The fact the election turned out the way it did doesn't change the law Congress passed establishing the site.

Usually administrations employ foot-dragging on projects they disfavor rather than out-and-out defiance of Congress.

This time, DOE has taken money intended for the construction of the repository and is spending it on the unlawful termination of the project.

No excuses are offered. No rationale. Just raw arrogance and a display of power.

Interestingly enough, Democrats are among the 91 who signed a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, that was written by Murray, D-Wash., and Hastings, R-Wash.

The letter was signed by 24 senators, two of them Democrats, and 67 representatives, 12 of them Democrats.

Washington state leaders signing the letter, in addition to Murray and Hastings, were Democratic Reps. Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee and Rick Larsen and Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers and David Reichert. Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican, also signed.

"We are deeply disappointed that the department has overstepped its bounds and has ignored congressional intent without peer review or proper scientific documentation in its actions regarding Yucca Mountain," the letter said.

As we've said before, Obama's campaign pledge was intended to help Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hold onto his seat.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, 52 percent of voters participating in a recent survey had an unfavorable opinion of Reid, 33 percent had a favorable view and another 15 percent said they're neutral. In early December, a Mason-Dixon poll put his unfavorable-favorable rating at 49-38. The lowest Reid's popularity had slipped before in the surveys was 50 percent -- in October, August and May of 2009, when Mason-Dixon Polls started tracking the Senate race for the Review-Journal.

Incumbents with numbers like that usually take them as an exit cue.

Reid, 70, vows to fight on. But keeping the nuclear repository out of Nevada is beginning to look like a very shaky accomplishment on which to base a campaign.