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 Mexico.

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."

Susan Parker

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