March 11, 2020
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Committee, questioned witnesses this morning at an EPW nomination hearing.
Nominees included Doug Benevento, nominee to be Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; The Honorable David A. Wright, nominee to be a member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and Christopher T. Hanson, nominee to be a member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Inhofe: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First of all, it's unusual that we’ll have three nominees to very significant positions that I find myself in total agreement with, including of course the minority nominee. They’re imminently qualified and I look forward to enthusiastically supporting all three of your nominees. I would offer a second opinion—I would just make the statement, the EPA has been very responsive to the requests of which reference has been made.
Mr. Benevento, last month we sat in my office to discuss some issues of importance to Oklahoma including the future of the small refinery exemptions. I would like to follow up on that conversation. I am encouraged the Administration recently sought a two week extension of consideration of whether to appeal the Tenth Circuit’s decision that invalidated certain SREs. I’m hopeful the administration would appeal this. I would just ask the question, any comments you might want to make Mr. Benevento, that if confirmed would you ensure that small refineries will get some form of relief. We can think of a lot of different things that could come fourth, but as a general rule, there are some things that could be of help to the small refineries. What thoughts do you have about that? What kind of commitment would you make to that extent?
Benevento: Thank you, Senator. The Tenth Circuit’s decision came out just about the time my nomination did so I haven't been involved any of the discussions that have been happening internally at the agency since then. Moving forward, what I can tell you is that I am happy to work with you, and other members of the committee, and Congress, along with the administrator, to ensure that whatever direction is ultimately determined we move forward with is equitable for everybody.
Inhofe: Including small refineries?
Benevento: Yes sir.
Inhofe: Well I appreciate that very much and I have no doubt that you will do that because we have worked together in the past and this is a consideration that has to be made.
Commissioner Wright, in 2015 when I chaired this committee, I scrutinized the NRC's budget and fee recovery practices and what I found out was NRC’s budget had not decreased in keeping with the drop in new reactor licenses and pre-mature closing of existing plants. So, I introduced NEIMA, with its budgeting and fee reform provisions to improve the accuracy and fairness of their financial practices at the NRC. I would like to ask you, is the NRC prepared to implement the NEIMA recommendations in Fiscal Year 2021 and begin budgeting more accurately and fairly? Comment about that and then anything else in the remaining time that you would like to add in terms of some of your priorities I would appreciate hearing.
Wright: Senator, thank you for the question. The NEIMA implementation I believe is going well. We have made necessary adjustments to our budgeting and to our reporting processes. We've already submitted, I believe, nine reports to Congress so far and I believe we have another one coming in July as well. I will tell you that we are challenged in certain areas because of the five percent reduction every year they have been going through even before I became the commissioner—and then to hit the cap. So, we want to make sure that we are making the necessary changes to our budget so that we can hit that 30 percent corporate support cap which we share the Chairman's disappointment that we missed it a little bit this year. I think we were at 31 percent. I do think the agency is doing everything they can. As you know the GAO report just came out recently and they did recognize that we are making some strides and that there are a couple of things that still need to happen and I agree with the recommendations that the GAO reports suggested. There is more work to do and, if we are challenged, I will commit to you and the other members of the committee that we will come talk to you.
Inhofe: Okay, that’s good. Mr. Hanson, any comments as far as your priorities are concerned that you would like to share with us?
Hanson: Thank you, Senator. I think budget implementation and the reforms under NEIMA are important. I also think workforce development is critically important and maintaining the workforce at the NRC. Like a lot of federal agencies, I understand they have an aging workforce or a workforce that's increasingly eligible for retirement. So, getting people in the door on the young side and enthusiastic about what’s going on in the nuclear sector is critically important —and a life in public service. I was recently at the University of Maryland at their test reactor and I got to meet some of their engineering students down there and I think the nation’s test reactors at universities, there is 36 of them, provide a really unique opportunity for students to get hands on experience and can hopefully serve as a pipeline to the NRC. In order to have that workforce that is needed to keep the industry going and to license new technology.
Inhofe: Yes, workforce is a problem. We've been dealing with that in a lot of other areas. One of the problems is that we have arguably the best economy we've had in my lifetime and that makes the job market a little different than it used to be. There’s a lot of competition out there. You have a lot of work to do. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.