Sen. Graham puts hold on Energy nominee

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is putting a procedural hold on President Obama’s pick to run the Energy Department (DOE), an aide told The Hill on Tuesday.

Graham is blocking Ernest Moniz until he receives answers about how the nominee for energy secretary will handle a nuclear waste disposal program in South Carolina.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told The Hill in the Capitol on Tuesday that he "was not aware of any hold," explaining he understood Graham has a meeting with Moniz scheduled for Wednesday.

Moniz, a physicist who runs the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative, is expected to eventually earn confirmation from the full Senate. Wyden said he has been talking to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) "continuously" to get a full Senate vote on Moniz "as expeditiously as possible."

But Graham’s concerns about the future of the Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) program at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., will delay a vote.

The project would convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. Moniz would oversee the program if confirmed, as DOE manages the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.

But the MOX program, slated to be operational by 2017, is running a decade behind its scheduled 2007 opening. At an estimated $4.8 billion price tag, it’s also three times costlier than initially projected.

To address the cost overruns, the DOE and the White House brokered a deal in February to slash the program’s budget by 75 percent.

That has alarmed Graham and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who cast the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s lone vote opposing Moniz’s nomination earlier this month.

Scott explained that he voted against Moniz because of his “lack of clarity on the future of the MOX program,” calling it “unacceptable.”

— This story was updated at 2:51 p.m.