In the latest flare-up of a long-running fight, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is once again blocking action on dozens of President Bush’s nominees for executive branch posts until the Senate approves the nomination of one of Reid’s aides for a seat on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Reid’s move threatens to unravel a deal he struck last year with the White House on Greg Jaczko, a Reid staffer and nuclear physicist who has been chosen as a Democratic nominee for the NRC. Bush nominated Jaczko in February for a Democratic slot on the five-member commission, but the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — after hearing intense opposition from the nuclear-power industry — has not yet cleared his nomination.
A Republican nominee for the NRC, retired Navy Vice Adm. John Grossenbacher, withdrew from consideration in April after Democrats stalled his nomination for seven months, and no replacement has been named yet. EPW Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has said he will not move the Jaczko nomination unless he can pair it up with a Republican selection. At this time, only three out of the five seats on the NRC are filled.
In retaliation for Inhofe’s decision to delay action on Jaczko, Reid will now move to place “holds” on all non-defense, non-judicial nominations sent to the Senate by the White House until Jaczko is approved.
“Dr. Jaczko has that rare combination of policy and scientific expertise. He is eminently qualified to serve as a member of the NRC, and has been nominated by the White House,” Reid said. “Despite all this, the Republicans have yet to move on his nomination. So I have decided to put a hold on all non-military, nonjudicial nominees until Dr. Jaczko is confirmed.”
Reid’s blanket hold could delay dozens of nominations for a range of federal departments and agencies, including Commerce, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State and Transportation, among others.
Right now, Reid has holds on two nominees for positions with the Environmental Protection Agency: Steve Johnson, who has been nominated to the agency’s deputy administrator, and Ben Grumbles, the nominee for assistant administrator for water. Two other EPA nominees who had been stalled by Reid holds received recess appointments from Bush.
Reid has also been bottling up EPW legislation. Inhofe has countered that he is prepared to live with two open seats at the NRC “for a while.”
Reid, however, faces intense behind-the-scenes opposition to Jaczko’s nomination from the nuclear-power industry. The industry is incensed at Reid’s longstanding opposition to the construction of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, located 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The NRC has authority over licensing for the Yucca Mountain site, which Congress approved in July 2002 as the permanent repository for more than 40,000 tons of nuclear waste, over the vehement objection of Reid and other Nevada lawmakers from both parties.
Utility companies that operate nuclear power plants, including the Southern Company, Entergy Corp. and FPL Group Inc., are working to defeat Jaczko’s nomination, and have urged GOP and Democratic Senators to oppose his selection.