Trouble Looms for DOE Nominee in Senate
Leading Republican members of the Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee last week sent a clear message to the White
House that the nomination of Bill Richardson to the post of DOE
secretary could be tied up indefinitely in the Senate unless the
Clinton administration makes concessions on the controversial issue
of nuclear-waste storage. Democrat members, on the other hand,
vowed to fight any efforts to delay the nomination.
Although most committee members called him an "excellent
choice," it was clear following the confirmation hearing that
Richardson's nomination could be a casualty if a showdown between
Congress and the White House over the nuclear-waste issue takes
place. "It might be a question of who blinks first," said a Capitol
Hill observer. Richardson, currently U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations, is said to be extremely interested in the DOE job, seeing
it as a stepping stone to either becoming the vice presidential
candidate on an Al Gore ticket or governor of his home state of New
Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) is "seriously considering" placing a
hold on the Richardson nomination when it reaches the full Senate
unless the Clinton administration gives the DOE Secretary the
authority to negotiate with Congress on nuclear-waste storage. He
contends the White House has forbidden previous secretaries from
taking this action. Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) and
Rod Grams (R-MN) support Craig's effort.
Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, the leading Democrat on the
panel, was strongly opposed to the Senate using Richardson's
nomination to extract concessions from the administration. The
energy committee has scheduled a business meeting for Wednesday,
where it could vote out Richardson's nomination to the full Senate.
First the nominee must respond to the numerous written questions
posed by committee members and it's not likely there will be a
Senate vote on Richardson before the August recess.
In a related development, Washington sources say Acting Energy
Secretary Elizabeth Moler, who has twice been passed over for the
top slot, plans to leave the department after a new secretary takes
office. Energy observers had believed that Moler, former chair of
the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, was a shoo-in to replace
Federico Pena, who stepped down as DOE secretary in late June. But
instead she was edged out by Richardson, who is said to have the
"ear of the president" and the "confidence of the president."
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