Inhofe Opening Statement at EPW Hearing to Consider Nominations to NRC

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee, today delivered the following opening statement at an EPW hearing to consider the nominations of Mr. Jeffery M. Baran and Mr. Stephen G. Burns to be Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: 

As prepared for delivery:

Mr. Burns and Mr. Baran, thank you for being here.

Madam Chairman, while I appreciate that we’re having this hearing today, I’m concerned about the expedited timeline on which we’re considering these nominees.

The President nominated them just before the August recess, and there was an effort on the part of this Committee to conduct the confirmation hearing during the last week of the session – and before the Committee received any of the paperwork from the nominees. 

While we were able to delay the hearing until now, the timeline is still rushed.  I don’t believe everyone on the Committee has even had the opportunity to meet with the nominees in person, and yet it’s my understanding that the Questions for the Record will be due tomorrow, turned around in 24 hours by the nominees, and then we’ll have a business meeting to mark them up and send them to the Floor on Thursday. 

Usually we provide about two weeks for Members to craft their QFRs and then consider the nominees only after Members have received satisfactory answers back.

That said, we have a lot of problems at the NRC right now.  Back in 2003, I helped shepherd a 30% increase in the NRC’s budget – at its request – to accommodate the expected nuclear renaissance.  It was expected at that time that 4 design certificates and 17 Construction and Operating License Applications would be considered by NRC.

At that time, the agency had about 1,500 employees nationwide, and the operating budget was about $300 million per year.  Today, the budget exceeds $1 billion per year and the agency employs 3,800 people.

The agency has now grown above and beyond the 30% I helped shepherd.  It’s more than doubled.  And since then, the agency has had less than half of the work that we anticipated – it has approved only one design certificate and two new license applications. 

A legitimate review of the agency’s staff levels and current workloads needs to be examined by the Commission, and cuts need to be made if current staff levels cannot be justified when compared to the mission and needs of the NRC.  This simple question needs to be asked: can we do the same job with 1,500 like we did before, instead of with our current 3,800? 

The main consequence of an overstaffed NRC is overregulation, and we’ve seen this with the relaxed perspective the agency has taken on the cumulative cost of its regulations.  Many of these new regulations have been in response to the Fukushima disaster in Japan, and while each rule by itself may not be considered costly, when added to the many other orders and regulations being considered, the cumulative costs skyrocket. 

This has become particularly problematic for the industry as it has struggled to regain its footing during a season of intense competition and shaky profitability, making the industry increasingly sensitive to expensive regulations that do little – if anything – to actually improve their safe operation. 

NRC needs to recognize this and take it into full consideration as it considers its existing regulations and any new ones.  This is something the EPA is supposed to do for its air rules.  Section 321(a) of the Clean Air Act says they are supposed to keep track of their regulations’ cumulative cost.  EPA has not been doing this, but EPA is an adversarial agency.  They do not try to understand the needs of industry and the American people.  They always have a political axe to grind.

NRC hasn’t been that way – and it should not become that way.  I expect more from the NRC, and I hope you two appreciate where I am coming from.   

Again, thank you for being here; I look forward to asking you questions.