Cantwell, Energy Committee Advance DOE Nominee Who Committed to BPA’s Autonomy

Energy Department top lawyer nominee moves to full Senate for a vote, previously affirmed to Cantwell that he will respect regional control of BPA

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) helped secure key committee approval of the Obama Administration’s nominee for the Department of Energy (DOE) General Counsel, who committed to Cantwell last month that he will respect the Bonneville Power Administration’s (BPA) Pacific Northwest autonomy.

The General Counsel nominee, Dr. Steven Croley, cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee on a voice vote this morning. His nomination will now be considered by the full Senate.

Under questioning from Cantwell at a November 14 ENR hearing on Croley’s nomination, Croley agreed to “respect the regional control of BPA” and not to “micromanage” the general counsel at the BPA.

“Pacific Northwest ratepayers deserve a Department of Energy that respects regional control of the Bonneville Power Administration,” Cantwell said. “Today’s vote moves Dr. Croley one step closer to becoming the next top lawyer at the DOE. I appreciate his commitments to restore BPA’s traditional autonomy and to work on a separate plan for defense nuclear waste – and I intend to hold him to these commitments.”

DOE is examining BPA’s legal and hiring decisions after the DOE’s Office of Inspector General found that hundreds of applicants to BPA jobs, including veterans, were discriminated against. On November 8, 2013, Cantwell along with every Senator and Representative from Oregon, Washington and Idaho sent a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz urging him to ensure that BPA remains independent.

Dr. Croley was nominated to the position of DOE’s General Counsel by the Obama Administration on August 1, 2013. The General Counsel oversees DOE’s legal affairs and manages more than 100 attorneys at the department.

“I fully appreciate BPA’s autonomy,” Croley said to Cantwell on November 14. “It’s my understanding that the department has no interest in affecting adversely that autonomy. But rather simply to provide a kind of support to the extent that is necessary and to the extent that may be necessary in the future and may not be.”

At the November 14 hearing, Croley also pledged to work with Cantwell to move forward on a plan to separate military and defense nuclear waste. As defense waste at Hanford moves closer to being processed, Cantwell stressed the need for a unique plan for the permanent disposal of defense nuclear waste.                                       

Cantwell asked at the November 14 hearing: “We are on a trajectory where we are going to have defense waste ready to go somewhere and we don’t want to have that be nowhere because we have to come up with a solution. So will you commit to working with me and the DOE and the chairman on separating defense from civilian waste?” 

Croley responded: “Senator, I would be happy, if confirmed, to work with you on that issue and any other issue.”

Cantwell has been a leader in demanding the Department of Energy (DOE) stick to established deadlines and develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with the unique challenge defense nuclear waste presents. At an ENR hearing on July 30, 2013, Cantwell called for a new nuclear waste bill to include a specific plan for disposing defense nuclear waste. 

During Dr. Ernest Moniz’s confirmation hearing to be Energy Secretary earlier this year in April, Cantwell asked Dr. Moniz if defense nuclear waste should be addressed separately from commercial waste in any disposal plan, to which he said he would “push for that evaluation” and “relook” at the issue if confirmed. Dr. Moniz noted that the issue was discussed extensively when he served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, but that the final report failed to address defense-related waste.

Today, the ENR committee – with Cantwell’s support -- also approved the nominations of:  Christopher A. Smith to be an Assistant Secretary of Energy (for Fossil Energy); and Esther P. Kia’aina to be an Assistant Secretary of the Interior (for Insular Areas).