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September 20, 2014

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YUCCA MOUNTAIN:

Incoming agency chief has sleeves rolled up

Gibbons appointee says he’s ready to lead Nevada’s fight against nuclear waste dump

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On Monday, Gov. Jim Gibbons appointed Bruce Breslow, a former sportscaster and past mayor of Sparks, to take over for the embattled Bob Loux as director of the state’s Nuclear Projects Agency.

Breslow was up against two men with environmental law and utilities backgrounds for the top spot at the agency, which is devoted to fighting a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain. The Sun talked to Breslow this week about why the 52-year-old thinks he’s qualified to take over the last stages of the fight against plans to store the nation’s highly radioactive nuclear waste 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Most Las Vegas Valley residents know little about you. Tell us about your background.

I was a sportscaster for 13 years. In 1989 the Reno station I worked for reorganized and I was laid off. So I ran for mayor of Sparks and was fortunate enough to be elected two times. Gov. Kenny Guinn appointed me to the Nevada Transportation Services Authority in 1999. A week before I took that job, George Will wrote a nationally syndicated column calling the authority the worst-run agency in the country. We were able to really turn that agency around.

Three years later Guinn asked me to be the chairman of the state Employee-Management Committee. Then in 2005 I left to go into commercial real estate with CB Richard Ellis, and a couple of years later I started my own firm with several other Reno-area businessmen. Since 2007 I have served on the Sparks Planning Commission, but I will resign at the next meeting.

Your highest-profile position was as mayor of a city of fewer than 80,000 residents. You’ll now get paid $115,000 a year to manage an agency that is dealing with one of Nevada’s — and some would even argue the nation’s — most controversial and important issues. What do you think qualifies you for this task?

As mayor, you quickly have to absorb how the planning department, public works, police and fire and sewer treatment plants work, and how to manage people and how to work with other elected officials, how to interact with the Nevada Legislature. I have big shoes to fill, but it’s an exciting challenge. I’ve never shied away from that sort of thing.

As mayor of Sparks, you were fined $1,000 by the state Ethics Commission, which also ordered you to pay Sparks more than $3,000 for personal calls you made on a city cell phone. What did you learn from that experience?

In the early ’90s, the city provided a cell phone, back when they weighed about 5 pounds. The city attorney told me it was OK to use it to make personal calls. But a citizen activist teamed up with my estranged wife, now my ex-wife, and filed an ethics complaint. I am the poster child for not using a government cell phone for personal calls. But it’s a good lesson learned for me and everyone else. Lesson humbly learned.

Speaking of ethics issues, the previous director of the Nuclear Projects Agency, Bob Loux, resigned from his position after he gave unauthorized pay raises to himself and his employees. It’s likely the agency will be under increased scrutiny. How will you deal with that?

There is a major audit of the agency right now. That’s one thing that’s important to me — you have to be accountable. But I can’t really comment on Bob’s situation.

After the Nuclear Projects Commission interviewed you and four other candidates in December, two of six commissioners voted against recommending you to the governor. Of the top three candidates for the position — from whom the governor had to pick one — you were the only one who didn’t receive a unanimous recommendation from the commission. And Sen. Richard Bryan, chairman of the commission, has said you were not his first choice. Does that concern you?

I have no idea who voted for or against me. Three of my flights to Las Vegas that day were canceled because of snow and I flew through San Diego to get there. I feel grateful I was among the top three.

You’re a Northern Nevada Republican. Is that why the governor chose you?

I didn’t lobby for the position. I didn’t meet the governor and discuss the position with him. This is something I thought was important for the state of Nevada, and I put my name in.

What is your first priority on your first day, Jan. 12?

I am not waiting until Jan. 12. I am talking to people as soon as possible, and I have been doing so ever since I knew I was a finalist. I plan on immersing myself in reports, talking to staff members and the attorney general’s office, getting a list of all the experts that the state is using and basically going back to my old reporter days and quizzing them on everything. And I’m meeting with Bob Loux.

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