NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, Under Fire, Defended By White House Chief (UPDATE)

WASHINGTON - White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley came out Monday night in support of the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, breaking the administration's silence on a coup attempt launched over the weekend by four bipartisan, pro-industry members of the panel.

Daley's support of Chairman Jaczko gives him an advantage in the battle with the commissioners, a day before all five combatants are scheduled to appear before Chairman Darrell Issa's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa, a Republican who represents a California district that is home to a major nuclear facility, uncovered the commission's internal conflict on Friday night when he released a letter from the four commissioners, which had been sent to Daley in October, complaining about the chairman's leadership and citing "grave concerns."

The commissioners portrayed the dispute as personal, but emails released subsequently by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) showed it to be at root political and ideological: After the Fukushima disaster, Jaczko put the commission on emergency footing in order to institute stricter safety standards that the other four members opposed.

Daley, in siding with Jaczko, framed the dispute as one over policy, noting that "many of the present tensions appear to be rooted in the very structure of the NRC and in disagreements over policy matters that have been before the Commission during Chairman Jaczko's tenure."

The White House, said Daley, "concluded that while there are tensions and disagreements among the Commissioners, these management differences have not impaired the Commission's ability to fulfill its mission ... In a June 2011 report, the Inspector General for the NRC concluded that the current disagreements between Chairman Jaczko and the other Commissioners reflect organizational tensions. After reviewing many of the same allegations as those reflected in the October 13, 2011, letter, the Inspector General concluded that although there are disagreements between the Commissioners and Chairman Jaczko about their respective authorities, Chairman Jaczko acted within his legal authority and members of the Commission always have the ability to bring a particular matter before the full Commission for a vote."

HuffPost reported on Monday that the lead organizer of the coup attempt had previously consulted for the firm that operates the Fukushima nuclear facility that melted down in Japan earlier this year.

Daley also declined Issa's request to send an administration witness to Wednesday's hearing. The five panelists will also appear Thursday before Sen. Barbara Boxer's (D-Calif.) Environment and Public Works Committee.

Daley also wrote to the four commissioners and the chairman, reiterating what he said to Issa and referring to personal meetings he has had with each of them.

"While I recognize that there are tensions and disagreements among the Commissioners, each of you made it clear in your conversations with me that these management differences have not impaired the Commission's ability to fulfill its mission or in any way jeopardized the safety and security of nuclear facilities in the United States," he said.

Jaczko, in a December letter that had been previously released, had apologized to Daley for the distraction. Daley reminded Issa he had done so. "Chairman Jaczko provided me with a detailed written response to the allegations raised by the other Commissioners. The Chairman apologized for the distraction caused by the present tensions and has taken responsibility for improving communications among the Commissioners. He has indicated his intention to reach out to his fellow Commission colleagues for that purpose," he wrote.

Issa was unhappy with Daley's decision not to engage the committee with a White House representative. "With four bipartisan commissioners raising deeply troubling concerns about abuse and mismanagement at the NRC, it's hard to reach any other conclusion than the White House is in denial about the severity of the situation at the NRC," Issa said.

UPDATE: 3:30 P.M. -- House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is strongly pressing the case against Nuclear Regulatory Chairman Greg Jaczko. In a report released Tuesday afternoon in advance of the hearing, Issa stops short of calling for his resignation but employs a metaphor that, in light of the industry's history, raises the stakes of the contest. "The NRC has survived thus far but the cracks are forming and all symptoms point to catastrophe," the report warns. "Swift, decisive action is desperately needed to restore the integrity of the NRC, its values, and commitment to its core mission -- public health and safety."

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