New internal commission procedures adopted in September by the US Nuclear
Regulatory Commission are impeding congressional oversight and fact-finding,
Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat-California, said during a hearing Thursday.
Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public
Works, which oversees NRC, said in her opening statement that the agency "has
recently made a unilateral and disturbing change to its policies on providing
information to Congress."
"The NRC's previous policy provided documents to members of Congress
serving on committees with NRC oversight authority and to members requesting
information about nuclear facilities in their states or districts," she said.
"Without notifying the EPW committee and -- I believe acting outside of the
NRC's authority -- the commission issued a new policy with substantial hurdles
and delays that could even be used to withhold information entirely from the
chairs and ranking members of oversight committees."
Boxer said "[t]he new policy allows the NRC to broadly deny information
to individual members of Congress, even when the information is related to
matters affecting their home states."
Boxer pointed to her ongoing investigation of the closed San Onofre
nuclear power plant in California as an example of the importance of
"Just this week, NRC personnel attempted to restrict my staff's review of
records that I had requested related to the ongoing San Onofre investigation
and even told my staff that they could be searched to ensure they had not
taken any documents," she said.
"Let me be clear -- no form of agency intimidation or obstruction will be
tolerated in this committee's investigation or its constitutional oversight
responsibilities," Boxer said.
"Action will be taken if you do not reverse your policy," she said
Boxer also objected to the heavy foreign travel schedule of some
commissioners, saying that it has impeded oversight hearings, and that she
will request a full accounting of commissioners' foreign travel.
Boxer did not mention any commissioners by name.
The hearing was adjourned due to Senate floor action before any
witnesses, including NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane, could testify. A
committee staffer said the hearing will be rescheduled after the Thanksgiving
Macfarlane told reporters after the hearing that the changes in the
commission's internal procedures have not and will not affect the ability of
Congress to get information from the agency and oversee NRC.
"We've heard the concerns of the chairman, and I think in general there's
a misunderstanding," Macfarlane said. "There aren't terribly significant
Macfarlane described the changes as only affecting "sensitive documents,"
which she said represent "very few" of the documents requested by
"We are very aware of our obligation to be responsive to our oversight
committees and to Congress in general," she said. "Nothing's changed in
regards to our providing documents and information to Congress."
Macfarlane denied NRC staff had threatened to search congressional
"We would never say such a thing," she said.
Macfarlane disagreed with Boxer's characterization of NRC's survey,
saying the survey concluded the agency's revised policy was "less restrictive"
than that of many other federal agencies.
NRC will work with Boxer to address her concerns, Macfarlane said. She
declined comment on whether the documents in question related to the San
--Steven Dolley, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Annie Siebert, email@example.com