Could Inhofe staffer be in line for agency post?

By Hannah Northey | 05/11/2016 07:20 AM EDT

An adviser to Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is being considered for a Republican opening on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

An adviser to Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is being considered for a Republican opening on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Inhofe told E&E Daily during an interview yesterday that Annie Caputo, a former Exelon Corp. executive who advises the EPW Committee on nuclear matters, is qualified and he’d like to see her serve on the five-member commission.

If nominated, Caputo would be vetted to replace outgoing NRC Commissioner William Ostendorff, whose term ends June 30, according to industry sources. Ostendorff announced earlier this year he plans to return to teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy and will not seek another term (Greenwire, Feb. 17).


The NRC is currently made up of Ostendorff; Chairman Stephen Burns, an independent; Republican Commissioner Kristine Svinicki; and Jeff Baran, a Democrat who used to work for former Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

But even while promoting Caputo, Inhofe was quick to leave the door open to other candidates.

"She’d do a good job, she’s qualified, and I’d like to have Annie do that, but … it sounds a little dictatorial, and I don’t want to do that," Inhofe said. "There are some others who might be interested. Annie has been working with me and for me for a long period of time. If others feel the same way about her as I do, I believe she’d be a good one and she’d be acceptable to the other side."

The EPW Committee, Inhofe said, has asked the White House to pair a Republican nominee with former Energy Department official Jessie Roberson, whom President Obama nominated in July to serve as a Democratic member of the commission. If confirmed, Roberson, who has yet to have a confirmation hearing, would replace former Democratic Commissioner Bill Magwood — now director-general of the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — for a five-year term through June 30, 2020.

"We’ve staked it out [and said,] ‘Whenever you’re ready to agree to do the pairing, then we’re ready to move,’" Inhofe said.

Inhofe said he believes both a Republican and Democratic nominee could be confirmed this Congress.

Caputo is well-known on Capitol Hill as a nuclear expert with a hand in advising Republicans in both chambers eager to see the divisive Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada move forward.

Caputo worked for Inhofe on the EPW Committee from 2009 to 2012. During those years, Inhofe led the call for then-NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko — a former staffer for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada — to step down after his colleagues accused him of bullying staff and withholding information. Jaczko denied those charges but left his post as chairman early in the spring of 2012 following congressional scrutiny (E&E Daily, May 22, 2012).

Caputo also served as a senior policy adviser on the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the last Congress. She worked as a congressional affairs manager for Exelon from 1998 to 2005.

Sources said Caputo could face a turbulent confirmation if nominated, given that Reid is still in power until he retires at the end of the year and is actively blocking Yucca Mountain from advancing. When asked about the potential nomination, a spokeswoman for Reid made clear the controversial waste site will loom large in any discussion.

"As for the nominees, Sen. Reid will look at whoever the Republicans ask the White House to nominate for that slot, but any individual who has already made up his or her mind on Yucca will not have Sen. Reid’s support," Kristen Orthman, a spokeswoman for Reid, said in an email.

There’s also the question of whether the upper chamber will advance any nominees at all.

"Realistically, there’s no impetus to move forward on any of these nominees," one industry watcher said. "The commission going down to three is not normally good, but there are no real issues coming up before the commission in the near future that would set alarm bells going off."

"What’s the motivation to try to confirm people in the near future? Well, there really isn’t one at this point unless there’s a deal that would fall apart if they didn’t do it," said another source.

Lake Barrett, a former Department of Energy official turned consultant, said the job of filling the NRC slots will likely fall to the next president and Congress.

"I think the politics are too complicated for this Congress to handle — it’s a combination of Reid and the election," Barrett said. "The only chance would be in a lame-duck [session], and that’s pretty unlikely."