Names start to circulate for NRC slots as FERC stagnates

By Hannah Northey, Geof Koss, Sam Mintz | 05/03/2017 06:55 AM EDT

A Senate staffer who used to work for Exelon Corp. and a former South Carolina utility commissioner are now circulating as possible nominees for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A Senate staffer who used to work for Exelon Corp. and a former South Carolina utility commissioner are now circulating as possible nominees for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

But as with other agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, it’s unclear when backup from the Trump administration will arrive.

Under consideration for vacancies at the NRC are David Wright, a former president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and former chairman of the South Carolina Public Service Commission, and Annie Caputo, an adviser to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and former aide to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), according to sources.


There are currently three sitting commissioners on the five-member body. The term of Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki, the lone Republican, ends June 30. She is eligible for renomination, and sources said she’s likely to be asked to serve again. Inhofe said yesterday he expects her to get the nod.

At least one possible NRC nominee is already ruffling feathers among anti-nuclear advocates.

Paul Gunter, a longtime nuclear critic who leads Maryland-based Beyond Nuclear, expressed concerns about the nomination of Caputo, a former executive at Exelon.

"I don’t think the nuclear industry could flaunt its special relationship with the NRC any more brazenly," said Gunter. "I think the big concern here is that we have seen how the collusion of government regulator and industry can lead to these man-made accidents like we saw at Fukushima. … It wasn’t just a natural disaster, it was the fact that this collusion had walked away from many opportunities to fortify the nuclear industry in Japan."

Inhofe dismissed criticism on whether Caputo’s ties to industry are a problem.

"She’s had different positions," he said. "Yes, of course, she knows the issues. Yes, she knows it from an industry perspective. But really that’s the only perspective that is. I mean there’s some people who just don’t like nuclear."

EPW Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said yesterday that there have been names for NRC under consideration at the White House "for a while." Asked if they were moving along quickly, he replied, "How do you define ‘quickly?’"

If President Trump fails to nominate or the Senate fails to confirm at least one new member for the commission tasked with overseeing U.S. nuclear plants before the end of June, the regulatory body could face a significant organizational shift (Greenwire, April 20).

Other agencies are already stuck in limbo, including FERC, a powerful agency that is unable to approve interstate natural gas pipelines and other projects because it lacks a quorum.

The delay in picking nominees continues to befuddle Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who said yesterday the lack of a quorum at FERC is hampering energy infrastructure projects — a stated priority of Trump’s.

"It’s pretty tough to make things happen if you can’t get your permits moved through FERC," she noted. "Whether it’s pipeline development or a hydro facility, nothing’s happening. The president has said he wants to move out on infrastructure — well a lot of this infrastructure won’t happen if you don’t have a functioning FERC."

Murkowski said it was unclear how the decision by FERC Commissioner Colette Honorable not to seek another term might affect filling vacancies at the agency.

Traditionally, Democrats and Republicans have "paired" their selections to fill out positions at independent agencies such as FERC or NRC. Honorable is a Democratic nominee, giving the minority a chance to install an ally at an agency that has become increasingly important in recent years.

"Does this give an opportunity to allow for pairing? Yeah," said Murkowski. "So does that help it? Yeah. Does that mean it’s necessarily going to happen? I don’t know."

While Honorable has said she’ll serve until the end of the year when Congress adjourns, as she’s allowed, Murkowski said it won’t make a difference. Without a quorum, "she’s not able to do the work that she needs to do," she said.

Murkowski laments nomination ‘dark hole’

Murkowski also decried continued delays from the White House in filling out the ranks of appointees at other agencies.

While the White House last month nominated Dan Brouillette to be deputy Energy secretary, Murkowski said yesterday the committee has not yet received his paperwork from the administration. "He has not been officially sent to us," she said.

Murkowski welcomed the nomination of David Bernhardt to be Interior deputy secretary, whom she recalled from his stint at the department during the George W. Bush administration.

"We had an opportunity to work with him when he was in the Bush administration, and I happen to think he’s a pretty solid guy," she said. "He certainly knows issues in my state, and that’s how it came to my attention."

However, Murkowski was unaware that ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) had expressed concerns over Bernhardt, citing his lobbying work and scandals at the department under Bush — concerns that may raise the stakes for the nominee (E&E Daily, May 2).

Murkowski said it was unclear why the White House is taking so long to move on other nominees, saying, "All I know is names go into a dark hole and it just seems to take forever."

She said she is "being persistent" in pressing the administration on the delays, as is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

"The names that Secretary Zinke and I have talked about, from everything that I have heard they’re going through the interview process, they’ve been given the blessing, but then it goes into a space and a place where nobody’s quite sure," she said. "And no, they’re not being rejected. Not one of the names that I’m familiar with, somebody’s come back and said, ‘I didn’t pass the test.’ Not one name have I heard has been rejected. It’s just a slow process."