WASHINGTON – Senators eager to turn the page on a divisive chapter at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Wednesday welcomed President Barack Obama’s choice to become the new chairman.
Allison Macfarlane was happy to comply, pledging to restore "collegiality" to the troubled agency.
Macfarlane, a geologist and associate professor of environmental science at George Mason University, took a step toward confirmation during a hearing at which senators said they were willing to overlook her lack of management experience in order for a fresh start at the nuclear safety body.
Macfarlane, 48, said that if confirmed, she would "devote all my energies to serving on the NRC with the attributes I consider important to good governance – openness, efficiency and transparency."
The Senate appeared on target to confirm Macfarlane, a Democratic choice, by the end of the month, with Kristine Svinicki, a Republican commissioner who has been nominated for a second term and who also faced members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a Macfarlane supporter, struck a deal with other leaders to move the pair in tandem. Nothing that happened Wednesday appeared to threaten that agreement.
Macfarlane would replace Gregory Jaczko, who resigned last month after a turbulent stint as chairman. Jaczko was accused by four other commissioners and agency staff of a bullying management style that served to amplify policy differences on the Yucca Mountain Project in Nevada and nuclear plant safety.
A member of the expert commission that in January completed a two-year study of nuclear waste policy, Macfarlane has said nuclear waste must be buried underground but has criticized Yucca Mountain as a flawed site.
A federal court is considering a lawsuit that could force the NRC to resume considering a license for the Yucca site, but Macfarlane was not asked how she would handle that, and the controversial Nevada project played only a peripheral role in Wednesday’s hearing.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.