The U.S. Senate approved yesterday the nomination of Hazel R.
O'Leary as the new Secretary of Energy. This vote came just two
days after O'Leary appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural
O'Leary, 55, has been executive vice president for corporate
affairs at the Minnesota-based Northern States Power Company.
During the Carter Administration she worked in a senior position at
the Federal Energy Administration.
In opening remarks at her confirmation hearing, Chairman J. Bennett
Johnston (D-Louisiana) discussed the challenges facing DOE, among
them implementation of the National Energy Strategy legislation,
waste clean-up, nuclear storage proposals at Yucca Mountain
(civilian) and WIPP (defense), and the "tremendous and difficult
task to negotiate" the ITER (fusion) agreement.
In his remarks, Senator Peter Domenici (R-New Mexico) spoke of the
23,000 physicists and other scientists employed directly at DOE
laboratories, warning that "this department's science and
technology are at risk." O'Leary responded that she views this
issue very seriously, and will support the laboratories' role as a
technology transfer agent.
During O'Leary's opening statement she expressed agreement with
President Clinton's contention that DOE is "underutilized." In the
first two minutes of her testimony she twice discussed the national
laboratories, saying "people don't understand this [the over-all
DOE] mission." O'Leary spoke of balancing and integrating energy,
environment, and economic issues, and pledged cooperation with EPA,
the Interior Department, and Congress.
Senator Dale Bumpers (D-Arkansas) criticized the SSC because of its
rising cost, and scant foreign contributions, and warned O'Leary
that its cost would reach $20 billion. Although there is much talk
about the federal deficit, Bumpers lamented, "we cannot [seem to]
curb the SSC." O'Leary did not respond directly.
The national laboratories were the focus of questions by Senator
Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico.) O'Leary agreed with Bingaman that
energy and environmental R&D must continue at the laboratories,
saying that she had already met with laboratory officials. She
later told Domenici that "DOE has a major role in [an economic
competitiveness] strategy." With some vigor, O'Leary declared, "I
intend to be an advocate for the labs."
The major source of disagreement during the four hour hearing was
over Northern States Power's proposed storage of spent fuel rods
from its nuclear plants. Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota) and
O'Leary clashed repeatedly over the utility's motives and
intentions. Although they agreed to discuss the issue further in
private, this single controversy will grow by many orders of
magnitude in O'Leary's new position. This year DOE is spending $6
billion on nuclear waste clean-up, with no end in sight over the
hotly contested Yucca Mountain and WIPP depository proposals.