Not so fast: Vitter wants hearing on long-term NRC stint for Baran

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and fellow GOP members of the panel have sent a letter to current Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), requesting a full committee meeting to consider the nomination of Jeffery Baran to serve the remainder of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Allison Macfarlane’s term, which ends on June 30, 2018.

Baran was just sworn in as an NRC commissioner on Oct. 14. He was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate to serve out the unexpired term of William Magwood IV, who resigned NRC in order to accept a post as the head of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA).

Then Oct. 21 NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane took the nuclear power community by surprise when she announced she was resigning from NRC effective Jan. 1 to take a faculty position with George Washington University.

Days ago, President Obama nominated Baran, a longtime congressional staffer, to fill a longer term upon Macfarlane’s departure from the commission.

“Asking Jeffery Baran to serve a ten-month term versus a four-year term is a dramatic difference, which is why the EPW Committee needs to hold a hearing in order to consider his qualifications,” Vitter said in a Nov. 18 news release.

“We know President Obama and Senator Harry Reid 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. 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,” Vitter said.

“As you are well aware, 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,” Vitter said in the letter. “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.”

The Republicans will assume leadership of EPW and other Senate committees when the new congress is organized in January.

Boxer responds to Vitter

In a written response to Vitter, Sen. Boxer said she was “disappointed” in the delay of the consideration of Baran’s new nomination. (Some Tennessee Valley Authority board members are also affected by a business meeting delay).

Boxer also said that Republicans have had ample chance to question Baran.

“On September 9, 2014, the EPW Committee held a hearing to consider Mr. Baran’s nomination for a term that ends June 30, 2015,” Boxer wrote. The 90-minute hearing was attended by four Democrats and four Republicans.

“Following the hearing, Mr. Baran was asked 88 questions for the record, 83 of which were submitted by Republican Members,” Boxer said. “By contrast, only 77 questions for the record were submitted to Stephen Burns, the other NRC nominee considered at the Committee’s September hearing and whose term was for a full 5 years, considerably longer than Mr. Baran’s. You have had ample time and recent opportunity to thoroughly question Mr. Baran,” Boxer said.

“Your letter also points out by way of expressing your concerns about the sufficiency of Mr. Baran’s qualifications that he only visited one U.S. nuclear power plant before he was nominated to be an NRC Commissioner,” Boxer said. “Publicly-available travel records indicate that before Republican Commissioner Kristine Svinicki was nominated, she had visited no U.S. nuclear power plants — yet no Member of EPW raised any concern about the sufficiency of her qualifications.”

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.