Baranwal

Baranwal

A U.S. Senate panel has advanced Rita Baranwal’s nomination to run the office that oversees Idaho National Laboratory.

With only Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., voting “No,” the Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted Tuesday morning to send Baranwal’s nomination to the full Senate.

Baranwal runs the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear, which is managed by INL. President Donald Trump nominated her in October to be assistant secretary for nuclear energy, a job in which she would lead the Office of Nuclear Energy, which promotes nuclear power and research and oversees INL.

Cortez Masto questioned Baranwal extensively at her confirmation hearing earlier this month on her views on storing nuclear waste at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, something Cortez Masto opposes. While Baranwal didn’t commit to either side at her hearing, she did sound open to the possibility of storing waste at Yucca.

The committee also voted Tuesday, with only Sanders objecting, to advance Raymond David Vela’s nomination to run the National Park Service. Vela is the superintendent of Grand Teton National Park now. And it voted 13-10 to advance Bernard McNamee’s nomination to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin joining the Republicans to support him. McNamee is head of the Department of Energy’s Office of Policy.

Most of the committee discussion was about McNamee, specifically about a video that came out last week of him supporting fossil fuels and criticizing solar and wind energy. Vela and Baranwal were only mentioned briefly, and were praised by senators from both parties when they did come up.

“I think they’re both well qualified on the basis of their training and experience for these positions,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Idaho senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo put out a statement after the vote praising Baranwal. Risch is on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and voted to support her nomination.

“With over 20 years’ experience in the nuclear industry, Dr. Baranwal has dedicated her life to studying and developing nuclear energy and has a vast understanding of (the U.S. Department of Energy’s) national labs and programs,” Risch said. “I have seen the groundbreaking work done at INL under Dr. Baranwal’s leadership, and I know she will be a tremendous asset at DOE. I thank the committee for advancing her nomination today and I look forward to confirming her on the Senate floor.”

The nominees now go to the full Senate.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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