WASHINGTON – Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko promised to be more transparent than his predecessors when he began his job in May 2009.
But congressional investigators say Jaczko, a former staffer of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been anything but transparent in his handling of the federal government’s response to the Japanese nuclear crisis.
They assert that as one of President Obama’s czars, he could be acting beyond what the law allows.
Jaczko assumed “emergency powers” following last month’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan – powers that allow him to unilaterally manage the agency’s response to the Japanese nuclear crisis without participation from the other NRC commissioners.
Now Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, asked his committee staff to contact all four of the other NRC commissioners. Inhofe was told Jaczko had not informed them of his decision to invoke his powers, as of March 30.
“Since March 28th was the first indication my staff received regarding your exercise of emergency authority – apparently no public declaration was made – I am concerned that any effort by you to declare an emergency has been less than ideal, especially given your commitment to openness and transparency,” Inhofe said in an April 6 letter to Jaczko.
GOP committee staffers say only the office of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was informed, and they were kept out of the loop.
EPW commissioners have pointed out that some members of their panel have more experience than Jaczko dealing with nuclear reactor issues of the sort that have plagued Japan since the earthquake.
Concerns also have been expressed that Jaczko’s actions may be beyond what is allowed by law for the NRC chairman. The chairman is required to ensure “that the commission is fully and currently informed about matters within its functions.” He also is supposed to inform the “commission of actions taken during an emergency.”
GOP staffers say Jaczko’s secret invocation of these powers with regard to Japan raises the question of whether or not he has acted similarly in other cases.
They also tell WND that Jaczko may have exceeded his authority by declaring the emergency, because law limits his authority to matters “pertaining to an emergency concerning a particular facility or materials licensed or regulated by the commission,” not foreign entities outside the NRC’s jurisdiction.
Inhofe asked Jaczko to provide his legal rationale for invoking his powers to deal with a foreign nuclear crisis, but his staff says the chairman’s response has been “cagey.”
Jaczko responded to the inquiry with an April 11 letter to Inhofe justifying his actions as being based in American national interests in Japan and the NRC’s expertise with nuclear emergency response procedures.
“The president designated me as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on May 13, 2009. That designation conferred upon me the executive authorities vested in the chairmanship, including the authority to exercise emergency powers, when warranted,” the letter said.
And Jaczko has denied keeping his colleagues uninformed, both in writing and in oral testimony before the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee.
The NRC chairman said in his letter, despite comments from the other commissioners to the contrary, that he has followed commission rules and has kept the other four commissioners informed of his activities related to Japan.
But this response has failed to answer the senator’s concerns, and committee staffers say all five NRC commissioners likely will be asked to testify before Congress in the next month.
Jaczko also faces investigations in both the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee relative to his conduct as NRC chairman.