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Senate holds leadership hearing for troubled nuclear commission

By Neela Banerjee, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — The Senate Energy and Public Works Committee, led by California Democrat Barbara Boxer, held a confirmation hearing Wednesday for two members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that signaled new leadership would soon be coming to the troubled agency.

The hearing Wednesday morning was held to review the nomination of Allison M. Macfarlane, a geologist and professor at George Mason University in Virginia, to head the NRC, succeeding Gregory Jaczko. The hearing also took up the nomination of Kristine Svincki, an engineer and longtime staffer for several Republican members of Congress, to another term as commissioner at the NRC.

Jaczko announced in May that he would be departing the NRC after a tumultuous term when some colleagues and Republican members of Congress criticized his management style as little short of bullying. Jaczko’s defenders among environmentalists and some Democrats say he was targeted because of his efforts to impose more stringent safety standards on the nuclear industry, especially after the nuclear meltdown in Japan last year.

The hearing, at times, seemed to be less about the nominees than about partisan disputes over Jaczko’s tenure. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., decried the tactics allegedly used against Jaczko as “McCarthy-ite.”

Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, the ranking minority member who tangled more than once with Sanders during the hearing, said Jaczko’s term was marked by “failed leadership.”

Macfarlane and Svinicki vowed to be collegial and transparent in their dealings with colleagues, the public and Congress. Chairman Boxer indicated that both nominees would likely be swiftly approved. She suggested that the NRC commissioners resolve their differences by going out for a beer together.

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