GOP, Boxer scrap over Reid’s handling of NRC, FERC nominees

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Senate Republicans today accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) of trying to micromanage nominations to critical agencies tasked with overseeing the grid and energy infrastructure and asked two Obama nominees for assurances they would not bend to the senator’s political will.

Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, citing news reports, said Reid appears to be trying to install his own picks at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the country’s approximately 100 reactors, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an agency that oversees pipelines and the U.S. electric grid.

“I do hope you will conduct yourself as independent, responsible leaders and will not be pushed around as a result of political pressure,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) told NRC nominees Jeffery Baran, an aide to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and former NRC general counsel Stephen Burns.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the committee’s chairwoman, said the panel could cast a vote on the nominees Thursday. If confirmed by the Senate — a move that many sources say is likely with Democratic support — Baran would fill the remainder of former NRC Commissioner William Magwood’s term that expires next summer, and Burns would serve a full five-year term.

Still, most of the discussion today focused on Reid.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said he didn’t understand why President Obama failed to renominate NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis after his term expired earlier this year, saying the decision appeared to be based on politics and not experience.

Barrasso also reiterated his concerns that Magwood left his post earlier this year after facing sharp backlash and name-calling from Reid, who during an interview called Magwood a “shit-stirrer” and a “treacherous, miserable liar” (Greenwire, July 31, 2012).

Reid accused Magwood of trying to oust former NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, a former aide to the Senate leader who resigned amid accusations that he had mismanaged the agency and berated employees, allegations that the former chairman denied. Jaczko has since been replaced by Allison Macfarlane, a Democrat.

Barrasso said he supports having a full slate of experienced NRC commissioners who “aren’t removed and called names on the Senate floor because they don’t share the majority leader’s narrow political agenda.”

But Boxer said it comes as no surprise that Reid — or any other former Senate majority leader — has an interest in NRC nominees.

“You can go all the way back to the original majority leaders. Why are they interested? Because they set the agenda, and if they feel uncomfortable with the [nominees], it’s uncomfortable for them,” Boxer said. “Whether [Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)] was majority leader, Reid, [former Republican Sen. Bob Dole], [former Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle] … they all care about who the commissioners are, it’s not a big surprise.”

Boxer said Reid’s interest in nominations is a product of the existing system, adding that the senator is also right to look out for interests in Nevada. “We all care about our states first and foremost, that’s the way it is,” she said.

Although Baran and Burns faced tough questions over the stalled Yucca Mountain waste repository and individual nuclear plants, as well as skepticism among Republicans on the committee, the nominees vowed to act independently.

“I hope to move this very, very quickly,” Boxer said.