Vitter bill would revamp NRC, define role of chairman

Sen. David Vitter (R.-La.) has introduced a bill to reorganize the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and limit the power of an NRC chairman relative to the four other commission members.

Among other things, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Reorganization Plan Codification and Complements Act says “All members of the Commission shall have full, unfettered, timely, and equal access to information of the Commission.”

Vitter is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees NRC.

A spokesperson for the Senate committee chair, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), could not immediately be reached for comment. NRC typically does not comment on congressional bills about its organization, said an NRC spokesperson Sept. 19.

GOP seeks to avoid NRC chair over-reach

“We want to support the function of the Commission, but put some simple checks and balances in place,” said Vitter. “Our bill will allow the Commission to run itself efficiently, and to preempt abuse of power.”

A companion bill was proposed in the House by Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.). “Trust at the Commission has been broken before, and it shouldn’t happen again. This legislation is a good first step in the process to help the Nuclear Regulatory Commission function at a level the American people expect,” Terry said in a statement.

The legislation could be seen as setting limits on the NRC chairman’s role. It comes less than 18 months after then-NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko was forced to resign after being accused of being too autocratic and a backroom bully to subordinates.

While Jaczko did have his defenders in Congress, the criticism was voiced not only by GOP lawmakers but also by his fellow commissioners in testimony before Congress. Jaczko was succeeded in the summer of 2012 by current Chairman Allison Macfarlane, who has touted her “collegial” approach to running the commission.

While the bill affirms the chairman as “the official spokesman for the Commission” and “the principal executive officer of the Commission,” it also emphasizes that the four other commissioners also have authority.

The bill also stipulates that items like appointment, removal and job performance evaluations for high-ranking staff, like the executive director of operations (EDO), will be governed by a majority of the commission.

The bill does specify that the chairman “shall initiate the appointment,” of high-ranking staff officers.

The bill also specifies that NRC commission member need to vote on actions taken by NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) within 90 days after the commission receives final briefs on the case.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.