December 15, 2011
Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov (202) 224-9797
Katie Brown Katie_Brown@epw.senate.gov (202) 224-2160
Opening Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Full and Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety joint hearing entitled, "Review of the NRC's Near-Term Task Force Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century."
Thursday, December 15, 2011 10:00 am
Thank you, Chairman Boxer, for holding this hearing. Nuclear safety has historically been a bipartisan issue and I believe the agency and the public are best served when that is the case. I believe events over the last week have once again shown that nuclear safety is bipartisan: in this case two Democrats and two Republicans.
I am dismayed by the numerous reports of Chairman Jaczko's intimidation and retaliation against senior agency staff, attempts to fundamentally undermine the collegial function of the Commission to forward his own objectives, and his efforts to withhold information from his fellow commissioners. However, I must say I am not surprised, given what I have learned through previous oversight hearings.
What does surprise me is that the White House appears to condone such behavior, dismissing it as mere "management differences". Well, the "management differences" we have here are serious: we have one Chairman who believes that bullying staff is acceptable in an effort to further his own agenda and four Commissioners who disagree.
In 2006, the late Commissioner Ed McGaffigan, well-known and admired by members of this committee on both sides of the aisle, gave a speech to NRC employees about the importance of speaking the truth to those in power. Here is what he said:
"You come to an institution, NRC, that is routinely subject to baseless attacks by groups opposed to nuclear power that call themselves "nuclear watchdogs." These groups need to demonize NRC, you and me, to fund themselves and their anti-nuclear agenda. When I arrived at NRC in 1996, I had spent two decades working on national security issues first as a Foreign Service Officer, and then as an aide to Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). I did not know that I was a demon, but it did not take long for me to cast votes, based on my scientific, technical, and policy judgment, that were not to the liking of the anti-nuclear zealots and so I became a demon."
He went on to say:
"'Honor' often involves telling people, perhaps colleagues, perhaps supervisors, what they do not want to hear... And it may make you enemies. But stories I could tell you from my own career would persuade you that you can afford such enemies, but you cannot afford to compromise your honor, your personal compass."
What we saw this weekend was an immediate, concerted and very public attempt to demonize four public servants whose only crime is to conduct themselves with honor; to seek assistance, as a last resort, from the White House to address problems they had not been able to resolve on their own. Risking their professional reputations, they came forward on behalf of the employees who now work in a hostile environment; employees who are forced to choose between what they believe is right and what Chairman Jaczko wants them to do.
Chairman Jaczko's actions simply can't be ignored. However, the White House appears willing to ignore the warning of 4 Commissioners, resting on their statements that his actions haven't impaired the Commission's ability to execute its mission to protect public health and safety...yet. Is the President waiting to act until it does? After all that we've learned, how can President Obama still believe that Mr. Jaczko remains the single best possible person to serve in this post? What will it take for him to change his mind?