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Trump-nominated nuclear engineer could lead DOE cleanup at sites like SRS

Aiken Standard (SC)

Jan. 22–The U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management division, the Savannah River Site landlord, may soon get a new leader.

On Jan. 18, Anne Marie White — a nominee for EM-1, the head of the DOE’s environmental cleanup program — testified before a federal energy committee, defending her qualifications and answering a handful of state-specific questions.

The assistant secretary position, formally known as EM-1, is currently vacant. It was last held by Monica Regalbuto during Barack Obama’s presidency.

White, though, was not confirmed Thursday: U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the Senate committee “will be working to move our nominees as quickly as we can” into their respective positions.

“We’ve got big things that we address here in the energy committee,” Murkowski said. “There are big things that the Department of Energy faces on a daily basis.”

The U.S. Senate received White’s nomination, handled by President Donald Trump and reinforced by DOE Secretary Rick Perry, on Jan. 8.

Environmental Management is an organization within the DOE that is tasked with cleaning up more than 100 sites across the country.

“If I am honored with a confirmation by the United States Senate, I will look forward to working together with you and your staffs to resolve the challenging issues that confront the nation in the areas of risk reduction and environmental cleanup from the nuclear weapons production program,” White said Thursday to members of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

She later said the EM-1 role encompasses “our moral obligation to clean up our environmental legacy challenges from World War II and the Cold War.”

White, who earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering, has worked in the nuclear industry for approximately 25 years: According to her Thursday testimony, White began her career physically involved with nuclear cleanup and eventually established her own nuclear consulting firm.

White told the Senate committee she has worked at many DOE-EM sites.

A Jan. 3 White House statement — one that nominated several other people to a range of positions — said White’s credentials are “industry-recognized.”

“Environmental cleanup work was a natural fit for me,” White said, adding that, if confirmed, she would work to increase safety and establish relationships with those actually involved with the manual cleanup work.

“Maintaining and further building trust with the workforce that we rely on to clean up our nation’s legacy environmental challenges will be a focus throughout my tenure,” she said.

Murkowski, the committee chairwoman, was the first to question White. The Alaskan senator was curious how White would reduce risk at the DOE and how she would reduce the department’s profile on the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s radar.

The accountability office has labelled the DOE as “high risk,” citing the department’s growing liabilities.

As of 2017, the federal government’s environmental liability totals $447 billion, according to the GAO’s latest report. The DOE is responsible for a majority of that — approximately $372 billion, the largest amount since at least fiscal year 2000.

White said, if appointed, she would reduce DOE risk by always ensuring “a safe work environment.” She said decision making must be made more timely, technically based and involved and that she would make “some improvements” in the way of contracting and job assignments.

White would also like to engage local communities more. In response to questions posed by West Virigina Sen. Shelley Capito, a Republican, White said nuclear neighbors — think Aiken County and SRS — and their perception of the DOE is paramount.

“Local communities are extremely important to the work we do,” White said, “and gaining their support is extremely important.”

“We need to be transparent in our communications with them,” she continued.

The Senate committee’s reception of White on Thursday morning was balmy at best, tepid at worst.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, said he could not endorse White due to ongoing uranium trade conflicts involving Russia and Kazakhstan. Barrasso — who represents a state that is among the nation’s largest uranium suppliers — said the uranium business is being adversely affected. Without White’s promise she’d end international head butting, Barrasso said, he could not support her.

White’s nomination must go through more committee hearings and a full U.S. Senate hearing before it can be approved.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee will next discuss White’s appointment on Jan. 30, according to the committee’s calendar.

Colin Demarest is a reporter with Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since November 2017. He is a New Jersey native and received his B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of South Carolina.


January 23, 2018 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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