WASHINGTON – Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee remain annoyed that Democrats are pressing ahead with the appointment of Jeff Baran to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission without a confirmation hearing before the full panel.
The nomination made it through the committee on Dec. 2. The 10 affirmative votes in Baran’s favor came from Democrats. Republicans did not attend the session — all voted no by proxy. The nomination is scheduled to come before the full Senate on Monday.
It is expected to pass despite widespread Republican opposition thanks in large measure to a rules change earlier this year that prohibits filibusters of presidential appointees.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the decision by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the chairman, to proceed without providing lawmakers the opportunity to question Baran broke committee precedent.
“The safety and success of our nuclear future depends on the members of NRC to be highly qualified, independent, and thoughtful,” Vitter said. “Clearly, it is irresponsible to extend Jeff Baran’s term considering how he lacks the necessary scientific experience and education — especially without a full committee hearing to consider his nomination for a full term.”
Vitter and the other committee members sought permission to question Baran on his nomination but Boxer denied the request, asserting that Baran has only recently gone through the confirmation process. He was appointed by President Obama to fill the unexpired term of commission member William Magwood and confirmed by the full Senate earlier this year.
Baran was sworn in on Oct. 14. His current term ends on June 30, 2015. He subsequently was nominated to fill the unexpired term of departing Commission Chairwoman Allison MacFarlane. That term extends to June 30, 2018.
In a letter dated Nov. 18, the committee’s GOP members said appointing Baran to a four-year term as opposed to his current term extending only 10 months is “drastic and many questions remain concerning the qualifications of Baran.”
The letter added, “It is imperative to the security and reliability of our nation’s energy needs that the members of the NRC be independent, thoughtful and highly qualified. We have a responsibility on behalf of our constituencies to hold a full committee hearing on Baran to consider if he possesses the capabilities to adequately fulfill his duties in a term of this length.”
Vitter said Obama and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, “like Mr. Baran because he’ll be their rubber stamp, but that doesn’t make him qualified.”
“The facts cannot be understated — Mr. Baran visited a nuclear power facility for the first time in his life earlier this year,” Vitter said. “Clearly, there are serious concerns regarding his ability to serve in a leadership position at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — and to ensure that safety, not politics, is the top priority.”
The nomination comes at a time when Democrats are scurrying to confirm Obama’s choices to fill open positions across government. Republicans, as a result of the Nov. 4 elections, will assume control of the upper chamber when the 114th Congress commences in January, an event that will render it more difficult to get the president’s nominations confirmed.
The post is of particular significance to Reid, who has engaged in a years-long battle over the proposed Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in the south-central part of Nevada near the California border.
Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, adopted in 1987, Yucca Mountain was designated as a repository for about 77,000 tons of highly radioactive spent nuclear reaction fuel and other high-level radioactive waste. The federal government has spent more than $14 billion studying the site but it has never opened – thanks in large measure to Reid’s opposition.
Project funding ended in 2010 but the issue is expected to rise anew when Republicans assume control. Reid needs a sympathetic commission member to provide some protection against proceeding with the project.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has five members, one of which is designated by the president as chairman. Commissioners formulate policies, develop regulations, issue orders to licensees and adjudicate legal matters. No more than three commissioners may be of the same political party.
Prior to his current appointment, Baran served as staff director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, working under Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the committee chairman who has a reputation as a strong opponent of domestic nuclear energy. NRC oversight was one of his primary responsibilities during that tenure.
From 2003 to 2008, he was counsel to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Prior to his work on Capitol Hill, Baran served as a law clerk for Judge Lesley Wells of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.