Sen. John Barrasso, a key lawmaker on energy issues, is promising a showdown over President Trump's pick to head the Energy Department's environmental office before a key committee vote the same day as the president's State of the Union address.
The Wyoming Republican said he has placed a hold on Anne White's nomination until she can prove to him that she will work to stop countries such as Russia from undermining the U.S. uranium industry.
"I appreciate you taking the time to discuss this issue with me in my office, but you were unable to give me a firm commitment to immediately halt these barters — something that [Energy] Secretary [Rick] Perry has told me he wants to do. It’s something he wants to accomplish," Barrasso told White at a recent Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing.
“My home state of Wyoming is the country’s number one uranium-producing state," but prices have fallen, he told White last week. “When prices are low, the hardworking people of Wyoming are hit the hardest."
Barrasso blames "unfair trade practices from government-owned producers in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan," but he also blames the Energy Department's practice of selling excess uranium on the open market for making it harder for Wyoming's uranium miners.
“For over a decade, the department has bartered the public’s excess uranium in exchange for decommissioning and other services," he said.
Employment for U.S. uranium producers has fallen by more than 50 percent.
The energy committee is scheduled to vote on White's confirmation Tuesday, but the hold could stop that from happening. As of Monday afternoon, Barrasso had not said if White had provided him with the assurances he needed to vote for her confirmation.
While serving on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Barrasso is also the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that regulates the U.S. nuclear industry.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee also is set to vote Tuesday on appointee Melissa Burnison to serve as Energy Department assistant secretary for congressional affairs.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, noted at a hearing this month that Burnison's position is not a post that her committee normally needs a hearing, or a vote, to consider.
The Alaska Republican said there was an "objection" filed against Burnison’s nomination. "Ordinarily we wouldn’t even be conducting a hearing for your nomination,” Murkowski said,
But things are more difficult in the Senate these days, Murkowski noted. “And while we did receive an objection for your nomination, I would note here that it was unrelated to you or your qualifications for this role,” she said. She didn’t say which senator or party filed the objection.
The energy committee also is scheduled to vote on two Interior Department nominations, including Susan Combs to be assistant secretary for policy and Ryan Nelson to be solicitor.