President Trump announced three nominations Monday evening to keep the nation's nuclear energy watchdog from effectively shutting down on July 1.
Trump announced that he intends to nominate Annie Caputo, a senior Senate environment panel adviser and nuclear engineer, and David Wright, a former state utility regulator from South Carolina, to serve five-year terms on the five-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Trump also said he intends to keep Kristine Svinicki, currently the commission's chairwoman, as head of the nuclear watchdog. Her current term expires in June. The terms of the other two commissioners currently at the agency, Stephen Burns and Jeff Baran, expire in 2018 and 2019.
But the rush is on to get Svinicki through the Senate confirmation process soon before June 30. If that doesn't happen, Trump would risk a situation that occurred at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in February, when the agency was forced to shut down for lack of a quorum. Both agencies require at least three commissioners to carry out their decision-making duties.
House Republican leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee told Trump in a letter last month that the prospect of a quorum-less NRC is unfathomable, but it will occur nonetheless on July 1 if nominees are not named and confirmed.
"As increasing economic challenges face America's existing nuclear power fleet, a fully functioning NRC is essential to maintaining the viability of a vital portion of our nation's clean, affordable electricity infrastructure and ensure a future for advanced nuclear technologies," the lawmakers said in a letter to the president.
Trump had only recently nominated two replacement commissioners at FERC, senior GOP staffer Neil Chatterjee and Pennsylvania utility regulator Robert Powelson. Both will face their first confirmation hearing on Thursday in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. FERC only has two commissioners remaining on the panel, and by the end of June will have only one, and Democratic Commissioner Colette Honorable is planning to leave.
Both watchdog agencies are seen as key to achieving President Trump's energy policy goals, as well as maintaining the safety and security of the grid. The NRC will be crucial to licensing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, which is a priority in Trump's budget blueprint. The nuclear regulator is also critical to relicensing much of the nation's nuclear power fleet, which is suffering economically due to the low cost of natural gas and other factors.
NRC will be challenged to relicense many of the power plants as they reach the end of their original operational and safety licenses. Proponents say it will be next to impossible to replace these power plants if they aren't relicensed. Nuclear power plants provide nearly 20 percent of the nation's electricity, and in some regions much more.
"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission plays an important role in making sure that American nuclear energy is safe and efficient," said Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyoming. "I look forward to quickly holding a hearing on their nominations."
Barrasso's committee has direct oversight over the commission. Nominee Caputo currently serves as Barrasso's senior policy adviser for nuclear issues. She is a nuclear engineer with 20 years of experience who has served on both the House Energy and Commerce Committee and previously at the Senate environment committee under former chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.