The White House plans to renominate a Republican member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, forestalling a potential fight with Senate Republicans over whether she would be tapped to continue serving after raising concerns with the panel’s Democratic chairman.
White House aides said Thursday that President Obama plans to renominate Kristine L. Svinicki to the nuclear panel for another five-year term. Svinicki, a Republican member of the commission, is a former state and federal energy official who also once served as a Senate aide.
The White House aides insisted that Obama always planned to renominate Svinicki, even before Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) raised concerns about her fate during Senate floor speeches Wednesday and Thursday. Calling her a widely respected nuclear engineer, McConnell suggested that Obama either would not renominate Svinicki or delay announcing her renomination in retaliation for her decision to raise concerns about NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko.
Long-simmering tensions between Jaczko and four other NRC commissioners first boiled to the surface publicly in December, when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee asked the White House for details of concerns raised by four commissioners about Jaczko, who Obama appointed as chairman in 2009.
An agency watchdog report last June accused Jaczko, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and other Democratic lawmakers, of not being forthcoming with fellow commissioners about a decision to end the review of an application for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada — a project Reid has long opposed.
In response to the committee, the White House said tensions between the commissioners were based on organizational issues and were not impairing the agency’s mission to regulate and protect the nation’s nuclear energy supply.
Then-White House Chief of Staff William Daley told the House panel that the four commissioners — two Republicans and two Democrats — said Jaczko had bullied career agency staff, ordered staffers to withhold or modify policy decisions and interacted with fellow commissioners in an intemperate fashion, actions that are “causing serious damage” to the agency and “creating a chilled work environment.”
Days after the disagreements surfaced publicly, the five commissioners testified at a House oversight hearing — one of the committee’s most dramatic in years. For more than two hours, the four commissioners concerned with Jaczko’s behavior testified that he had served as agency head with abusive, bullying and misogynistic behavior.
In response, Jaczko repeatedly defended his actions and said he was unaware of some allegations. He also said the NRC had faced an “exceptionally challenging” year as the agency responded to the Japanese tsunami and meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant.
McConnell said Thursday that he was pleased to hear that Obama planned to renominate Svinicki and called for her swift Senate confimration: “This commission must be fully staffed. This term will end June 30th, this whole delay is inexplicable and the only thing one can conclude ... is that this nomination was being held up because Commissioner Svinicki confronted the chairman over his abusive behavior.”
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