The embattled chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday he'll resign as soon as a successor can be found, succumbing to pressure from fellow commissioners who accused him of tyrannical behavior, and setting up what's expected to be a bruising battle over a replacement.
Capitol Hill aides and industry sources said Gregory B. Jaczko, who has been at the helm of the NRC since he was appointed chairman by President Obama three years ago, was acting ahead of an auditor's report due soon that was expected to highlight problems with his management style.
But the struggles on the commission also broke down along ideological lines: Mr. Jaczko often found himself on the losing side of 4-1 decisions on the five-member NRC as he battled the nuclear industry at nearly every turn. Nuclear industry opponents are already deeply feeling losing him.
"Jaczko sought to create tougher rules for the nuclear industry in the wake of Japan's Fukushima disaster last year. But the nuclear industry wanted Jaczko gone from Day One," said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader.
Mr. Jaczko's departure also sets up a difficult replacement process.
Traditionally the Republican Senate leader names two commissioners, the Democrats' Senate leader names two, and the president names the chairman. One of the GOP's slots, Commissioner Kristine L. Svinicki, needs to be reconfirmed before her term expires at the end of June — but Democrats had been slow-walking the process.
Congressional aides said Mr. Obama might try to submit a replacement for Mr. Jaczko and insist that it be part of a package deal for Congress to confirm both nominees.
Mr. Jaczko's term was set to expire next year — either in June, if Mr. Obama wins re-election, or in January if Mr. Obama loses. But he has spent much of the last six months dealing with charges from his fellow commissioners that he has excluded them from decision-making and has been verbally abusive to staffers.
One of those commissioners, William D. Magwood, a Democratic appointee, told Congress last year that he spoke with three women who had complained of bad behavior, including "a raging verbal assault."
He said one woman described how, after an encounter with Mr. Jaczko, she "couldn't stop shaking" and her supervisor had to calm her down before she could drive home safely.
Mr. Jaczko didn't address those charges in his statement Monday, instead reflecting on his work, which oversaw the U.S. response to Japan's Fukushima reactor accident and what Mr. Jaczko said were "a number of severe incidents" in the U.S.
"After an incredibly productive three years as chairman, I have decided this is the appropriate time to continue my efforts to ensure public safety in a different forum," Mr. Jaczko said. "This is the right time to pass along the public safety torch to a new chairman who will keep a strong focus on carrying out the vital mission of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."
But his critics, including high-powered members of Congress, said his legacy is tarnished.
"This was never about nuclear safety, but rather poor leadership that created an abusive and hostile work environment," said Rep. Darrell E. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who had accused Mr. Jaczko of deceiving Congress. "I urge the White House to move quickly in nominating a replacement so that this matter finally reaches its end."
Mr. Jaczko had been a staffer for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid before being tapped for the NRC, and Mr. Reid had proved to be a powerful backer.
On Monday, Mr. Reid said Mr. Jaczko's replacement will need to "share his commitment to protecting the safety of the American people over the interests of a single industry."
Mr. Reid also has harshly criticized Ms. Svinicki, the commissioner awaiting reconfirmation. He has accused her of lying to Congress during his first confirmation hearings about whether she worked on the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage project — a matter that is bound to come up at her new confirmation hearings this time around.
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