Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), and a group of 36 House Republicans have called for “right-sizing” the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
A March 24 letter from Flores to House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Ranking Member Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) argues for a $66m cut in NRC’s fiscal 2017 budget from the $982m proposed by the Obama administration.
In early February, the Obama administration proposed an NRC operating budget of $970.2m for FY 2017 along with an additional $12.1m for the NRC Office of Inspector General.
The GOP letter was signed by 37 House Republicans from across the country. Recognizing that utility ratepayers pay 90% of the NRC’s budget through fees recovered from the utilities, Flores said the reduction proposed “will directly reduce unnecessary burdens on hardworking American families, ultimately resulting in lower monthly utility bills.”
The NRC initiated Project Aim in 2014 with the goal of transforming the agency over the next five years to improve its “effectiveness, efficiency, and agility.” The agency acknowledged the effort would require “right-sizing the agency to retain skill sets needed to accomplish its mission” and “streamlining agency processes to use resources more wisely.”
The nuclear energy industry and Congress have expressed their desire to see the NRC aggressively pursue Project Aim in its FY 2017 spending, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI).
The Flores letter reinforces that message and illustrates widespread Republican support for making a sizable reduction in the fiscal 2017 Energy and Water Appropriations bill. NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel recently submitted written testimony to House and Senate Appropriations committees, urging appropriators to trim the NRC’s budget by $36m identified by the agency itself after it issued its proposed budget and to include a further reduction of $6m in corporate support.
NRC Chairman Stephen Burns has said that NRC has identified an additional $36m in potential savings that were no included in the president’s budget proposal.
The GOP lawmakers said in the letter that the cuts are needed because of “fact-of-life changes that reduced NRC’s anticipated new reactor workload – all while increasing transparency and accountability at this government agency.”
The Flores letter’s call for a reduction simultaneously supports the NRC’s Advanced Reactor Licensing program. The letter says, “Private companies and the research community have come to the table with fresh ideas on ways to build the next generation of nuclear reactors, potentially creating thousands of American jobs. We ask for your support on these efforts so that we can build that next generation here at home.”
The letter also advocates for continuing the Integrated University Program, a Department of Energy (DOE) program that has been zeroed out in the 2017 budget request.
The Obama administration’s FY 2017 budget proposal for NRC funds 3,462 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, a decline of 90 FTE from the FY 2016 budget and 280 FTE since 2014.