|WASHINGTON - December 5 - President Bush's nomination of Margaret Chu to the office responsible for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository raises conflict of interest concerns because of her previous work at Sandia National Laboratories, a key participant in the project, Public Citizen said today. Chu has been nominated as director of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM). The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the confirmation today.
"Such blatant organizational conflict of interest makes this nomination unacceptable," said Lisa Gue, policy analyst with Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "As director of OCRWM, Chu would be in a position to review the work of a program she formerly directed."
For more than two decades, Chu was employed by Sandia National Labs, most recently as director of the Nuclear Waste Management Program. Sandia is a DOE nuclear weapons and research facility operated by Lockheed Martin Corp. The facility has conducted several studies related to the Yucca Mountain repository proposal, including a series of "Total System Performance Assessments" (TSPAs) that aim to predict the ability of the DOE's repository designs to contain nuclear waste far into the future. As stated on Sandia's Web site, "Any decision on whether to build and operate a repository at the [Yucca Mountain] site will be strongly influenced by past and future TSPA analyses."
Yucca Mountain, located northwest of Las Vegas in Nevada, is the only site under consideration for a proposed high-level nuclear waste repository. OCRWM is responsible for evaluating the suitability of the site, which may lead to a recommendation by the energy secretary early next year. Numerous technical, environmental and policy issues remain unresolved, but the pro-nuclear Bush administration appears committed to pursuing the project.
"Sandia's Yucca Mountain studies have tended to favor the repository proposal," said Gue, noting that the presidentially appointed Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board has frequently been critical of the high level of uncertainty involved in the TSPA analyses. "If the DOE decides not to recommend the site, Sandia's reputation would certainly be hurt."
"Because of her long association with Sandia's Nuclear Waste Management Program, Margaret Chu will be under immense pressure to support a favorable evaluation of the Yucca Mountain repository proposal regardless of evidence that should disqualify the site," Gue said.
Recent events have brought to light other instances of conflict of interest within the Yucca Mountain Project, seriously damaging its credibility. The law firm Winston & Strawn resigned last week after the DOE's inspector general reported that lawyers serving as counsel to the Yucca Mountain Project were simultaneously registered as members and lobbyists for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's pro-repository lobbying group. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's inspector general also is investigating an alleged leak of unpublished NRC documents to Winston & Strawn lawyers. Additionally, a draft Government Accounting Office document, reported on last week in the Washington Post and elsewhere, appears to indicate that DOE's current site recommendation activities are premature because many studies are incomplete.
"The repository proposal should be shelved pending a thorough and independent review of the causes and consequences of contractor conflict of interest and pro-industry bias within the Yucca Mountain Project," said Gue. "The integrity of the program has been seriously undermined, and by nominating Margaret Chu the administration shows no interest in improving this dismal track record."
Statement for the Record before the House Judiciary Committee
by Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen,
on Ney-Hoyer "Help America Vote" Bill
Dec. 5, 2001
The Ney-Hoyer "election reform" bill would do relatively little to fix our broken election system - which "lost" about six million votes in the 2000 presidential race. Unveiled barely three weeks ago, Ney-Hoyer compares unfavorably to the more pro-reform Dodd and McConnell-Schumer bills in the Senate. Both Senate bills require states and localities to meet strong national voting standards as an indispensable condition for federal assistance. But Ney-Hoyer offers only weak standards - shot through with loopholes - in a "hands off" program of grants to states and localities. Rather than fixing the wound to our democracy, Ney-Hoyer would largely perpetuate the flawed state and local system that produced the 2000 election fiascoes.
Unlike both Senate bills, the Ney-Hoyer bill:
· Does not require national standards for the permissible "error rate" of voting machines in counting and tabulating ballots.
· Does not require that voters be notified if they have voted for too few or too many candidates so they can know whether they need to correct their errors.
· Does not mandate that the states and localities ensure the availability of voting technology that would enable vision-impaired and other disabled voters to independently and privately
fill in their ballots.
· Does not ensure that citizens deficient in English will have access to ballots in alternative languages.
· Does not ensure that voters are notified of their right to file a provisional ballot if their names are not on the precinct register, and to be informed whether their registration was ultimately verified and their vote counted.
· Undermines the "Motor Voter" law by allowing voters to be purged from registration lists if they have not voted in four years and not responded to a notice (regardless of whether they actually received it, for example, at a new address).
Nearly 80 percent of the Senate is co-sponsoring a better bill than Ney-Hoyer, so it is not true, as some argue, that the House "can't do better than this." If House leaders want to pass a serious reform, the best thing they could do now would be to await the imminently anticipated results of ongoing Senate compromise negotiations among Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) and the principal sponsors of the superior Senate legislation, and take its cue from there. At the very least, they need to fix Ney-Hoyer and send a credible bill to an eventual House-Senate Conference.
The American people will not accept a fraudulent reform that makes a new Florida fiasco almost inevitable.
Public Citizen is a Washington-based consumer advocacy organization with 150,000 members nationwide. For more information on energy and other consumer concerns, please visit www.citizen.org.