Republican members of the Senate Energy and Natural ResourcesCommittee Wednesday warned Energy Secretary nominee Bill Richardsonhis nomination could face an indefinite delay when it reaches theSenate floor unless the Clinton administration makes concessions onthe controversial issue of nuclear-waste storage. Democrat members,on the other hand, vowed to fight against any efforts to block thenomination.

Although most committee members felt him an “excellent choice”to head up the Department of Energy, it was clear following theconfirmation hearing that Richardson’s nomination could very wellfall victim to a showdown between Congress and the White House overthe nuclear-waste issue. “It might be a question of who blinksfirst,” said a Capitol Hill observer. Richardson, currently U.S.ambassador to the United Nations, is said to see the DOE job as astepping stone to either becoming the vice presidential candidateon an Al Gore ticket or governor of his home state of New Mexico.

But Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) is “seriously considering” placing ahold on the Richardson nomination when it reaches the full Senateunless the administration gives the DOE Secretary the authority tonegotiate with Congress on nuclear waste storage. He contends theWhite House has forbidden previous secretaries from taking thisaction. Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) and Rod Grams(R-MN) support Craig’s effort.

But Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) expressed “great impatience with thepartisan politics and political posturing” surrounding Richardson’snomination.

Murkowski questioned Richardson about his role in the MonicaLewinsky affair – he was asked by the White House to interview herfor a job. “Senator, this is a very normal procedure for me,”Richardson said. “…I get a lot of these requests from the WhiteHouse.” After finding her “impressive,” Lewinsky was offered a$30,000-a-year position, but she later rejected the offer, he said.

The Senate Energy Committee has scheduled a business meeting fornext Wednesday, where it could vote out Richardson’s nomination tothe full Senate. Whether the committee votes on the nomination thenwill depend on whether the nominee will be able to respond to thenumerous written questions that were given to him, said committeespokesman Derek Jumper. He said he doubted the Senate would be ableto vote on the nomination before the August recess.

In a related item, it’s being reported that Acting EnergySecretary Elizabeth Moler will leave the department after the newsecretary takes office. Moler, former chair of the Federal EnergyRegulatory Commission, has twice been passed over for the top DOEjob. Federico Pena stepped down as DOE secretary in late June.

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