If there was any doubt that an imbroglio around the leadership of Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, would be used to try to force his ouster from that agency, a Wednesday hearing before a House panel removed it.
All five members of the NRC appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is chaired by Representative Darrell Issa. Four commissioners publicly aired their grievances about Jaczko’s leadership, which include charges of bullying and intimidation of staff, along with refusing to share information with fellow commissioners.
Jaczko said he did nothing wrong, and cited a report from the NRC inspector general clearing him of legal wrongdoing when it came to sharing information among his colleagues. But Republicans went directly for the jugular.
“I think you should resign,” Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Tea Party favorite from Utah, told Jaczko after a rapid-fire series of questions during which he repeatedly cut off Jaczko mid-reply. “If you’re going to do the right thing for this country and this commission, you should step down.” After similarly berating Jaczko during his questioning, Representative Raul Labrador told him that “I’ve never seen such self-deluded behavior by any individual probably in my whole life.”
Already this week, two Republican members of Congress—Representatives Ed Whitfield and John Shimkus—have called for Jaczko’s resignation. Others have suggested that Jaczko step down as chairman but remain on the commission. During the hearing Jaczko said he has “no plans to resign.”
The four commissioners—two of whom are Democrats, while two are Republicans—were unanimous in saying that Jaczko’s temper was out of control, and cited detailed examples of NRC staffers who were reduced to tears or similarly humiliated with a “loss of composure” after a confrontation with Jaczko.
There may be something to these allegations—but it’s also clear that the nuclear industry is using the conflict to attempt to neutralize or remove Jaczko from the NRC, where he has been a consistent advocate for tighter safety controls, particularly after the catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. As we detailed Monday, on several key votes Jaczko has been the lone voice for tougher regulations, in opposition to the other four members.
On Monday, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s main lobby in Washington, issued a statement echoing the concerns of the four commissioners and urged the White House and Congress to take “necessary steps” to correct the problem. And Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post reported this week that after the controversy erupted on Friday night, by Saturday morning industry officials were calling key Democrats and urging them not to back Jaczko.
Moreover, Grim noted that Commissioner William Magwood, who is leading the charge against Jaczko, has deep industry ties. His appointment was opposed by over 100 watchdog groups for that reason. Notably, Magwood did consulting work for Tepco—the company that runs the Fukushima plant.
Democrats on the panel repeatedly attempted to highlight Jaczko’s strong regulatory stand, despite a warning from Issa that the hearing wasn’t supposed to be about nuclear safety but rather effective personnel management.
“The Republican narrative for this hearing is superficial, political, and ultimately counterproductive for the health of the nuclear industry in America,” said Representative Gerry Connolly in written opening remarks. “By focusing on interpersonal bureaucratic disagreements within the [NRC], the frame of this hearing presented by the majority distracts from the more important issue at hand—the need for a robust, transparent NRC which is necessary to protect the public.”
The entire commission will again be before Congress tomorrow, this time before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.