House Republicans train their fire on top nuclear regulator

House Republicans bashed Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko Tuesday just days after a report alleged he misled his fellow regulators in pushing to abandon plans to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

One Republican even went so far as to call for Jaczko’s resignation.

"I do think he needs to step down," Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday in the Capitol. “I think it would be beneficial for the American people, beneficial for the agency.”

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In light of the report, Republicans are ramping up their long-standing criticism of the Obama administration’s decision to abandon Yucca Mountain, the long-delayed proposed nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

Last year, the Obama administration, led by the Energy Department, proposed to slash funding and withdraw the license application for the project. Republicans say the move is politically motivated.

Republicans convened a hearing of a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday to examine the report, which was conducted by NRC Inspector General Hubert Bell. The hearing is part of an ongoing investigation of Yucca Mountain by Republicans on the committee.

“There is outright malfeasance,” Rep John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the panel’s Environment and the Economy subcommittee said. “The report is replete with instances of Chairman Jaczko deliberately misleading both his fellow commissioners and senior NRC staff.”

The report, which was released last week, said Jaczko “strategically” withheld key information from his fellow commissioners about his intentions to close a technical review of the Yucca Mountain project’s license application. The majority of NRC commissioners ultimately disagreed with Jaczko’s decision, the report says.

More broadly, the report alleges that Jaczko “controls information” provided to other NRC commissioners by designating issues as administrative matters, which he has control over, rather than policy matters.

But the report says Jaczko broke no laws in his handling of Yucca Mountain.

However, Joseph McMillan assistant inspector general for investigations at NRC, told lawmakers at the hearing Tuesday that it is possible that Jaczko violated the “spirit of the law.”

“That could in fact be called into question as to whether he was in the spirit of the law as designed for an open, collaborative engagement with the other commissioners,” McMillan said.

Rep. Joe Barton, chairman emeritus of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said Jaczko’s actions appear to have violated the law and Republicans intend to investigate the issue.

“Ultimately, if he did in fact break the law, at a minimum, he should resign,” Barton told reporters, noting that Jaczko should have the opportunity to testify before the committee.

While Jaczko did not testify at Tuesday's hearing, he is slated to appear before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Thursday.

Whitfield, in separate comments to reporters, said Republicans are discussing whether to push for Jaczko’s resignation.

“We’re certainly going to be talking about it to see if we can get some sort of a movement organized to do that,” he said.

Democrats, for their part, said Tuesday that Republicans were using the report to score political points, stressing that the IG report says Jaczko did not in fact break any laws.

“Despite the rhetoric that we’ve heard over the past months, today we won’t be presented with evidence of lawbreaking,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the committee, said. “Instead we’ll hear about internal procedures of the NRC.”

Waxman said he supports a “thorough investigation” into Jaczko’s actions as NRC chairman.

But Waxman said some of Jaczko’s actions are no different than those taken by Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee, alleging that the majority has denied minority staff access to witnesses during its ongoing investigation into Yucca Mountain.

“Let’s make sure that our committee operates as a model if we’re going to criticize the commission for not operating as we would hope they would,” Waxman said.