- Jul 2, 2009
Interesting reads, especially together. I love Harry Reid :whiste:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB100...75961521636474.html?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTTopStoriesThe Obama administration has shown a certain ruthless streak when it comes to getting what it wants. For its latest in brass-knuckle tactics, consider the ongoing fight over the proposed Yucca nuclear waste facility.
This tale begins in 2008, when candidate Obama was determined to win Nevada, a crucial electoral state. Catering to locals, Mr. Obama promised to kill plans—approved by Congress—to make the state's Yucca Mountain the repository for spent nuclear fuel. He was backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevadan who has made Yucca's demise an overriding priority.
Shortly after inauguration, Messrs. Obama and Reid teamed up to elevate Gregory Jaczko to chair the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the nation's independent regulator. Mr. Jaczko was anything but a neutral designee, having served for years on the staffs of both Mr. Reid and Massachusetts' antinuke Rep. Edward Markey. As a Reid adviser, Mr. Jaczko headed up opposition to Yucca. The clear intent in making him chairman was to ensure Yucca's demise.
Toward that end, the Obama Department of Energy quickly filed a formal request with the NRC to revoke the license application for Yucca. A coalition of states and industry groups—drowning in spent fuel—then petitioned to prevent the department from doing so. The issue was thrown to a panel of NRC administrative judges. Much to the administration's frustration, they ruled unanimously in June of last year that the Energy Department lacked the authority to "singlehandedly derail" a policy that had been directed by Congress.
Enter the brass knuckles.
The panel's decision was appealed to the five-member NRC board. This was Mr. Jaczko's moment to finally tank Yucca, only he ran into problems. While the board officially contains three Democrats and two Republicans, it has tended toward nonpartisanship and has in the past proved unwilling to overturn panel rulings. Worse for Mr. Jaczko, one of the board's Democrats recused himself from the vote. A 2-2 board decision is not enough to override the judges' verdict.
All four commissioners had voted by September of last year. Yet in an unprecedented display of political partisanship, Mr. Jaczko ultimately withdrew his vote, held open the process, and didn't revote until just before the November election. Why? The chairman had obviously lost the vote and didn't want the bad news hitting his former boss, Mr. Reid, before the polls closed in his hard-fought Nevada re-election. To this day, Mr. Jaczko has refused to close out the process and release the votes.
This latest foot-dragging appears related to the fact that the term of one of the Republicans on the board, William Ostendorff, expires in just a few weeks. Mr. Ostendorff has been renominated and boasts bipartisan support. Then again, should his term just happen to expire, Mr. Jaczko can hold a revote and potentially win on Yucca. And guess who gets to decide when Mr. Ostendorff's nomination comes up for full Senate approval? Mr. Reid.
The Yucca vote is hardly the only place Mr. Jaczko has been abusing his "independent" authority on behalf of the president and Mr. Reid. NRC staff have for years been working on a critical Yucca safety report, which includes conclusions on whether Yucca can safely hold radioactive waste for up to a million years. Environmentalists have used the million-year unknown as their main argument against the site, and the findings are crucial.
The documents are finished, yet Mr. Jaczko has used every means to keep them secret. When the agency finally answered a Freedom of Information request to release the documents, it blacked out all the staff's findings and conclusions on long-term safety.
Mr. Jazcko has been unilaterally closing down agency work on Yucca, even as the Energy Department's actions remain in adjudication. He's overridden fellow commissioners on Yucca decisions. He recently gave himself extraordinary emergency powers in the wake of the Japanese nuclear incident—without informing fellow commissioners or Congress. Mr. Jaczko has yet to make clear whether those powers are ongoing, when they will cease, or what actions he's taken with them.
All of this has inspired a revolt among agency staff and commissioners, and it's undermining the body's other work. Only this week, the NRC's inspector general finished an investigation into the chairman's actions. Mr. Jaczko claims the report vindicates him (though he refuses to release the report). House Energy and Commerce Republicans have their own copy (which they intend to release), and they'll be telling a starkly different story come Tuesday, when they hold a hearing on the report's gory details.
Mr. Obama has every right to try to convince the legislative branch to change the directives of past bipartisan Congresses on Yucca. Instead, he and Mr. Reid have teamed up to install a regulator whose only mission is to abuse his independent agency's authority and bypass Congress to accomplish a partisan political promise.
WASHINGTON—The U.S.'s top nuclear-power regulator "strategically" withheld information from his colleagues in an effort to stop work on a controversial proposed waste dump, according to a report by the agency's internal watchdog, a finding likely to inflame debate about how to handle the nation's nuclear waste.
The June 6 report by Nuclear Regulatory Commission Inspector General Hubert T. Bell offers an unflattering portrait of the NRC and its leader, Gregory Jaczko, who is described as having a temper that makes it "difficult for people to work with him."
At issue is a directive by Mr. Jaczko to agency staffers that effectively halted work on a key NRC report about a proposed waste repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. The inspector general alleges that Mr. Jaczko wasn't forthcoming with his fellow NRC commissioners about the implications of his directive.
The report, which is expected to be circulated on Capitol Hill on Friday, finds no evidence that Mr. Jaczko broke any laws in moving to halt the NRC's work on Yucca Mountain—a point Mr. Jaczko stressed in a written statement responding to the report.
A decades-long debate over what to do with spent nuclear waste—specifically whether to commission a Yucca Mountain facility—continues to divide policy makers at the highest levels of government, as the report underscores. That debate has gained urgency in the wake of the March 11 earthquake that rocked Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which led to the dangerous overheating of spent fuel stored at the plant.
Since the accident, the nuclear industry and its supporters in Congress have been counting on the NRC and Mr. Jaczko to reassure the public about the safety of America's 104 nuclear reactors. The NRC is in the middle of a review of nuclear-industry safety procedures that will determine how much companies must spend to raise their standards.
Some lawmakers have called for spent nuclear fuel to be hauled away from plants, where it is currently stored, often close to heavily populated areas.
The seven-month investigation that culminated in the report is the topic of a congressional hearing scheduled for next week.
In his written statement responding to the report, Mr. Jaczko said its conclusions "reaffirm that my actions have been and remain consistent with established law," and added that he appreciated Mr. Bell's "thoroughness."
He added: "The closeout of the Yucca Mountain license review has been a complicated issue, with dedicated and experienced people holding different viewpoints. All NRC Chairmen have the responsibility to make difficult and sometimes controversial decisions."
Mr. Jaczko's written statement didn't respond to criticisms about his management style. The report says Mr. Jaczko's colleagues are sometimes "uncertain" whether he keeps them "adequately informed" on policy matters, and portrays the chairman as controlling. It paraphrases Mr. Jaczko as having acknowledged to investigators he sometimes uses "forceful management techniques to accomplish his objectives," but also having maintained that such techniques were "necessary to facilitate the work of the commission."
Through a spokesman, Mr. Jaczko said he believes "very passionately" in nuclear safety and that he holds people "to a high standard."
Under a 2002 law, Yucca Mountain was designated as the site for the nation's high-level nuclear waste. Construction and opening of the repository stalled amid opposition from Nevada's congressional delegation, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the Obama administration, which says the repository is not a "workable" option because it lacks support from the state. As a result, waste has mostly stayed at the dozens of commercial nuclear reactors where it was generated.
The report suggests the debate over Yucca is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Even though federal law requires the agency to make a final decision on whether to build the facility, "there are various factors preventing the agency" from doing so, including the Obama administration's effort to terminate the project.
Mr. Jaczko, a physicist by training, has come under criticism from congressional Republicans who say he is improperly blocking the agency's technical review of the Yucca project, which has long been favored by the nuclear industry. Opposition in Congress has been led by Mr. Reid, for whom Mr. Jaczko once worked as a science-policy adviser. President George W. Bush, after some initial resistance, appointed Mr. Jaczko to a seat on the NRC in 2005 after Mr. Reid blocked Bush nominees for dozens of positions. President Barack Obama elevated Mr. Jaczko to the chairmanship in 2009.
The dispute stems from a decision Mr. Jaczko made last fall to direct commission staffers to wind down the NRC's technical review of an application in favor of the proposed Yucca repository. A memorandum issued by Mr. Jaczko's office to NRC staffers said that because Congress hadn't passed a budget for fiscal 2011, which began last Oct. 1, the staff should use instead Mr. Obama's budget request, which called for terminating the project.
After Mr. Jaczko's directive was made public, Kenneth Rogers, a former NRC commissioner and Reagan appointee, called on Mr. Bell to investigate Mr. Jaczko's actions to determine "whether any legal or other improprieties have been committed." On Thursday, Mr. Rogers said he hadn't seen the inspector general's report.
Mr. Jaczko has said the directive was legal and was reviewed by the agency's general counsel. Mr. Bell's report, which is based on interviews with Mr. Jaczko and multiple agency staffers, concurs on those points.
But it also says Mr. Jaczko "was not forthcoming with" his fellow commissioners about his intent to use the budget guidance to halt work on the Yucca report.
The safety evaluation would have determined whether Yucca met NRC health and safety regulations. Yucca's supporters have long hoped to see the safety report made public, because they believe it will support the technical and scientific case for the repository.
Mr. Jaczko anticipated that using the budget guidance to halt work "could be controversial" and acknowledged that others might see it as requiring consideration by the full commission, the report said.
As a result, Mr. Jaczko "strategically provided" three of the four other NRC commissioners "with varying amounts of information" about his intention to prevent publication of the safety documents. The report says that two of the three commissioners "did not fully understand" the implications of Mr. Jaczko's budget guidance, and that a majority of the commissioners "disagreed with" the outcome.
The report paraphrases Mr. Jaczko as saying that all of the NRC's commissioners were kept informed and "supported issuance of" the guidance. It said the chairman became "very agitated" when a fellow commissioner told him he didn't realize the implications of the budget guidance on the safety report.
"You should have asked," the inspector-general report quotes Mr. Jaczko as having told the commissioner.