Boxer accuses nuke regulators of obstruction

Sen. Barbara Boxer is ratcheting up her criticism of a new Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) information-sharing policy that she says could impede congressional investigations.

The California Democrat, who serves as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, issued a scathing letter to NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane, calling the policy shift a “radical departure” from past protocol that “can be used to withhold information entirely from the Chairs and Ranking Members of oversight committees.”

She called on the commission to rescind the new policy.

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The EPW committee is one of numerous congressional panels with jurisdiction over the nuclear energy issues, and routinely conducts investigations into safety at reactors around the country, particularly in the wake of the 2011 meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima plant.

The NRC must keep Congress apprised of its activities, Boxer said.

“Despite these responsibilities, the NRC unilaterally devised a drastic change of policy behind closed doors, failed to notify the EPW Committee about this far-reaching proposal, and then unilaterally implemented this harmful policy without consulting Congress or the public,” she said.

Boxer first raised the issue last week, accusing the commission of restricting her staff’s review of records related to an ongoing probe of safety issues at the San Onofre plant in Southern California.

Boxer’s staffers were told that they could be physically searched for stolen documents after they had finished reviewing them, she said. 



“Let me be clear — no form of agency intimidation or obstruction will be tolerated in this committee’s investigation or its constitutional oversight responsibilities,” she warned at a hearing attended by all five NRC commissioners.

Following Boxer’s remarks, Macfarlane described the flap as a misunderstanding and pledged to make the documents in question available.

Macfarlane said the policy shift was merely a revision of past procedures. Among the changes is a requirement that all lawmaker requests for sensitive documents be made through the chairman or ranking member of applicable congressional oversight committees, she said.

She added that sensitive documents reflect a small fraction of the records kept by the commission. 

Further, Macfarlane denied that the new policies involve the searches of any legislative staffers.