John Pemberton, a former Environmental Protection Agency official who is now a lobbyist for the Southern Co., recently attended a Senate GOP legislative strategy meeting and urged Republican staffers to convince their bosses to reject Jaczko’s nomination, Senate sources said.
Pemberton received heavy criticism from environmental groups when he left EPA for Southern last September — especially since some of his decisions while at the agency had a direct impact on the industry operations.
Jaczko, a nuclear physicist who now handles appropriations issues for Reid, was chosen as the Democratic nominee for the NRC in March 2003 by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).
But the White House initially objected to Jaczko, and the nomination remained in limbo until Reid retaliated in early September by blocking other Bush nominees, including the appointment of former Utah Gov. Michael Levitt (R) as EPA administrator. The White House then cut a deal with Reid and agreed to support Jaczko’s nomination. Jaczko, in turn, has pledged to recuse himself from any votes on Yucca Mountain-related issues for one year if he is confirmed.
Reid sees the latest delay on Jaczko as a violation of his earlier agreement with the White House. The Nevada Democrat wants the Bush administration to work to free up Jaczko’s nomination.
Senate Republicans suggested that Reid’s blanket hold on executive branch nominees was overkill, since Democrats have already stalled a number of Bush’s choices for office.
“The Democrats have been blocking all sorts of Republican nominations for months,” said a Senate GOP aide. “It’s a little disingenuous for them to crying foul now.” Another Republican leadership aide suggested blanket holds are “counter productive” since it would slow Senate action on all fronts, including the confirmation of other Democratic nominees.
A nuclear industry lobbyist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said his company has been assured by the White House that the deal with Reid only covered Jaczko’s nomination, not his approval by the Senate.
Jaczko “has a bias against nuclear,” said the industry official. “One commissioner at the NRC can cause a lot of problems for the industry. We don’t want him to be a commissioner at all.”
Industry officials, feeling like they have strong backing from Republicans in opposition to Jaczko, are asking for help from Senate Democrats from the South and Northeast who have nuclear power plants in their states.
“If we can block Jaczko, it’s going to come from the Democratic side,” the official said.
But any Democrat who crosses Reid on this issue could face retribution down the road. Reid, in addition to being a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, may end up as Democratic leader if Daschle were to step down or lose his re-election bid in November — and Reid is unlikely to forget those who go against him on the Jaczko nomination.