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The Policy Racket

Embattled NRC chairman may have long lame duck tenure

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Karoun Demirjian

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko answers a battery of questions pertaining to Yucca Mountain from members of the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment May 4, 2011.

Updated Tuesday, May 22, 2012 | 3:24 p.m.

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

When Greg Jaczko announced his intention to resign from his chairmanship of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission yesterday, the White House said they’d find a replacement in short order.

But any nominee has to clear Sen. Harry Reid’s Senate -- and Tuesday, Reid said it’s possible Jaczko will be sticking around for awhile.

“His term expires at the first of July of next year. We hope to have a replacement before then, but if we don’t, Greg will be there for the duration,” Reid told reporters when asked about what the schedule would be for confirming Jaczko’s replacement. “And if something doesn’t work out, he can always be re-nominated.”

Jaczko said in his resignation that he’d stick around until a new chairman is confirmed.

That’s a far cry from rumors circulating yesterday that Jaczko had handed in his resignation papers because Reid had lost confidence, or interest, in defending him against a recent barrage of attacks-- rumors Reid's office has denied.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not usually a government agency that commands much attention save for those who care about the nuclear industries and the ongoing saga of Yucca Mountain.

But last year, the five-member commission’s internal business became the subject of serious political strife, after an Inspector General report documented complaints that Jaczko was abusive to his staff, dismissive of other commissioners, and ran the NRC like a dictatorship.

Congressional inquiries followed in which Republicans also charged that Jaczko had used his authority to manipulate procedure and twist the outcome of certain agency decisions -- including the future of the licensing process for the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

Reid -- one of Jaczko’s early employers on Capitol Hill -- has shot back that Republicans are simply trying to oust Jaczko to get a more industry-friendly chairman.

“[Greg Jaczko] is the first really non-nuclear industrial chairman of that commission. The majority of the members are pro-nuke and of course they didn’t like things he did that were trying to call for safety,” Reid said Tuesday. “I admire so much the work that he’s done.”

And apparently, may keep doing.

The White House can re-nominate a replacement for Jaczko, but it’s up to Reid -- and Senate Environment and Public Works committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer -- to see that a nominee ever comes up for a confirmation vote.

Right now, Reid sounds like he’s expecting Jaczko to have a comfortably long lame-duck chairmanship.

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