The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Bill Richardson as U.S. Secretary of Energy on Friday, a move some officials said will be good for the Savannah River Site.
"Early indications suggest that he should be a friend of the Savannah River Site," said Richard Perry, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "Mr. Richardson doesn't get rave reviews yet, but the congressman is very pleased. We're being cautious."
The Senate confirmed Mr. Richardson's appointment by voice vote Friday afternoon. President Clinton nominated Mr. Richardson for the position in June.
As secretary, Mr. Richardson, 50, will lead the Energy Department, which owns and oversees operation of the SRS. The site, which stores and treats nuclear waste from the nation's nuclear-weapons buildup, employs 14,000 people in the Augusta-Aiken area.
His experience as a congressman from New Mexico, where several nuclear-energy laboratories and test sites are located, should help Mr. Richardson shape nuclear policy as energy secretary, said Jack Herrmann, public relations director for the Westinghouse Savannah River Co.. The company operates SRS under a contract with the energy department.
"Speaking personally, he has a good first-hand knowledge of energy department issues from his time in New Mexico, and that's got to be good for the site," Mr. Herrmann said of Mr. Richardson. "He'll be a quick study."
Bill Reinig, vice chairman of local group Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, also said he was pleased with the confirmation.
"Our opinion has been well stated before," Mr. Reinig said. "We thought he was a good choice."
Mr. Richardson is a former ambassador to the United Nations. He replaces Federico Pena, and becomes the Clinton administration's highest-ranking Hispanic.
In a statement, Mr. Richardson thanked the Senate for quickly confirming his nomination. As secretary, he will work to improve communication between parties with interests in the energy department's sites and activities, he said.
"One of my first priorities will be to meet with consumers, environmental groups, public health groups, business leaders, contractors and elected representatives so that we can all work together," Mr. Richardson stated.
Mr. Richardson was a popular choice among congressional leaders, but his nomination became enmeshed in two disparate issues.
Some Republicans used the nomination as an opportunity to demand that the White House resolve the long-running dispute over storing nuclear waste. The Clinton administration has opposed legislation that would create an interim storage site in Nevada, which is represented by two Democratic senators.
Some GOP senators, led by Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, threatened to block Mr. Richardson's confirmation unless the White House gave him authority to resolve the nuclear waste dispute.
In a letter dated July 30, Mr. Clinton assured Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, that "Ambassador Richardson has the portfolio for addressing the nuclear waste issue and has full authority to carry out his responsibilities in this area."
Mr. Murkowski, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a written statement Friday he will support the nomination, despite reservations over similar promises he said the administration made but did not keep when Mr. Pena took the job.
"Because I now have a promise that he will have such authority, I will take that commitment in good faith," Mr. Murkowski said.
Allegations that Mr. Clinton had an affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky also found their way into Mr. Richardson's nomination.
While at the U.N., Mr. Richardson offered Miss Lewinsky a job as a $30,000-a-year public relations aide. Mr. Richardson said he was asked to consider her by John Podesta, deputy White House chief of staff.
During Mr. Richardson's confirmation hearing last week, some Republicans said they were surprised the ambassador would participate in her job interview. Mr. Richardson replied that he usually interviewed candidates for political jobs.
After a family vacation, Mr. Richardson will begin work as secretary in mid-August, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article
Political history: Appointed Friday to be the U.S. Secretary of Energy, replacing Federico Pena. Now serves as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Elected eight times to U.S. House of Representatives for New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District. As a congressman, Mr. Richardson became known for sponsoring massive amounts of legislation, in the areas of the environment, energy, health, foreign policy and Native American affairs.
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Tufts University, 1970. Master of Arts, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, 1971.
Tidbits:Fluent in Spanish, and speaks and reads French well.
Source: U.S. State Department