Republicans set sights on NRC chief

Republicans have set their sights on Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko amid an ongoing fight over the re-nomination of a GOP member of the agency.

GOP lawmakers, in a series of statements and media interviews in recent days, have argued that Jaczko overstepped his authority on the commission and alleged that he verbally abused female staffers at the agency.

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They’ve also knocked the chairman for opposing licenses for the first new nuclear power reactors in more than three decades.

Jaczko, a Democrat and former staffer for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), has been a long-time GOP target. But a brewing squabble over the re-nomination of NRC Commissioner Kristine Svinicki, a Republican, has revived the criticism.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans urged Jaczko Monday to defend his performance as head of the commission.

“In connection with the Committee on Energy and Commerce’s ongoing oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), we seek to examine commission-level governance of the NRC, including the chairman’s role as principal executive officer of the NRC,” the GOP lawmakers wrote in a letter to Jaczko.

Republicans have pounced on comments by Jaczko’s colleagues as well as an inspector general report issued last year that raised questions about the chairman’s leadership at the agency.

The report, which found Jaczko broke no laws, says he “controls information” provided to the other NRC commissioners by designating issues as administrative matters, which he has control over, rather than policy matters.

“The chairman has made a regular practice of interfering with the ability of the commission to obtain information from the NRC staff,” Commissioner William Magwood, a Democrat, said during testimony before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in December.

“He has asserted the authority to decide what information is provided to the commission, when it is provided and, increasingly, what the information contains when it reaches the commission,” Magwood said.

Separately, committee Republicans pressed Jaczko last week to explain why he was the lone dissenting commissioner on two recent votes to allow construction of new nuclear reactors at power plants in Georgia and South Carolina.

“Collegial policy differences are essential to proper Commission policymaking. In your votes on these new plant licenses, you undermine the collegiality of the Commission by once again portraying yourself as the only commissioner who places public health and safety as the paramount concern,” top Republicans on the panel, including Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), wrote in a letter to Jaczko Thursday.

“Given that all four of your colleagues felt compelled to write the White House last fall that your ‘conduct as Chairman is inconsistent with the NRC’s organizational values and impairs the effective execution of the agency’s mission,’ this strikes us as a less than accurate portrayal of what is transpiring at the Commission. In light of this, we seek a clearer understanding of the basis for your views.”

In his dissents, Jaczko said the plant operators should provide assurances that will take into account the regulatory changes being put in place as a result of the nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The renewed scrutiny of Jaczko’s record comes amid the fight over Svinicki’s re-nomination. The White House said Obama intends to re-nominate her, setting up a clash with Reid, a vocal opponent of the nuclear official.

Reid has not said whether he’ll allow a Senate floor vote on the nomination.

Republicans have alleged that Democrats are holding up the nomination as retribution for Svinicki’s public criticism of Jaczko.

Svinicki and three of her colleagues, including two Democrats, wrote a letter to the White House last year alleging that Jaczko is causing “serious damage” to the agency that could harm the body’s ability to protect health and safety.

She has also alleged that Jaczko berated female employees at the agency, claims that were initially revealed in a report released by the commission’s inspector general last year.

Republicans are ramping up pressure on Reid to move forward quickly with the confirmation process. They have painted Svinicki as a “whistleblower” who is essential to the operation of the commission.

Jaczko has strongly denied allegations that he verbally abused female employees of the agency, calling the claims “categorically untrue” last week. He has also defended his leadership at the agency, noting that debate among the commissioners is essential to ensure the agency can adequately oversee the country’s nuclear power plants.