WASHINGTON – In a deal to let 175 of President Bush's nominees take office, an adviser to new Democratic leader Harry Reid (search), the Senate's staunchest opponent of a nuclear waste dump in Nevada, will be named to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (search).
For months Senate Republicans had refused to take up, or even hold a hearing, on the nomination of Gregory Jaczko (search), Reid's adviser on nuclear issues.
In turn, Reid, who has pledged to try to kill the Yucca Mountain (search) nuclear waste project 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, had blocked the Bush nominations.
In negotiations just before Congress recessed during the weekend, an agreement was worked out: the White House promised Jaczko would be appointed to a limited two-year term while Congress was in recess, and Reid lifted his hold on the package of Bush nominations, which zipped through the Senate.
Also, it was agreed that a Republican nominee to the NRC, retired Navy Vice Admiral Albert H. Konetzni (search), would be put on the commission and probably would become its chairman late next year.
The White House already had sent Konetzni's nomination to the Senate this month hoping to resolve an impasse that had kept the president's nominations in congressional limbo. Among them were senior positions across the executive branch and at such entities as Amtrak, the Social Security Administration and the judiciary.
Some Republicans and executives in the nuclear industry had opposed Jaczko's nomination bitterly, fearing that he would work to further Reid's desire to kill the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project.
The NRC is expected to begin considering a license for the facility next year. Under the compromise reached on the NRC nominations, Jaczko agreed not to participate in any Yucca Mountain related matters for the first year of his two-year term.
The licensing process is expected to take at least three years once an application is received from the Energy Department next year. Margaret Chu, director of the DOE office that heads the Yucca program, recently informed regulators the department would not meet a Dec. 31 target to submit a license application, officials said Monday. It had been widely believed the target would be missed because of financing problems and adverse court decisions involving radiation standards.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who opposed Jaczko's nomination, said he was comfortable with the arrangement after, he said, the White House assured him Jaczko would not be renominated by the president after his two years.
A Reid spokeswoman, Tessa Hafen, said that the agreement "in no way prohibits (Jaczko) from being renominated."
By law three of the five commissioners at the NRC must be of the same party as the president. The commission currently has two Republican and one Democratic member.
Jaczko, a physicist who joined Reid's staff in 2001 as a nuclear adviser, did not return telephone calls to his office Monday.
"Greg is eminently qualified to serve as a commissioner. He is a scientist first and has the background and experience necessary to evaluate information objectively," Reid said in a statement.
Domenici and 15 other Republican senators informed Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist that it would be impossible to confirm Jaczko without senators first having the opportunity to question him at a formal hearing.
"A nominee as controversial as Greg Jaczko will not be confirmed ... for the sake of political expedience," said Domenici. An appointment to a post while Congress is in recess does not require Senate confirmation but is good for only the length of the congressional session, which is two years. A normal NRC appointment is for five years.