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Senator Likes U.S. Energy Nominee He’s Blocking From Senate Vote

Senator Lindsey Graham said his hold on Ernest Moniz’s nomination for energy secretary remains in place after a meeting didn’t clear up the lawmaker’s concern over budget cuts to a plutonium processing plant in his state.

“We’re talking with the White House, and we’re trying to get resolution quickly,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told reporters yesterday in Washington. “He’s a great candidate. He’d be a good secretary of energy.”

Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for Graham, said in an e-mail that the lawmaker met with Moniz yesterday. President Barack Obama nominated the Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics professor to replace Steven Chu, who is returning to Stanford University in California. Bishop declined to comment on whether Moniz tried to satisfy Graham’s concerns.

The plant at the center of the dispute is intended to convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for civilian nuclear-power reactors. The project is being led by a consortium that includes Paris-based Areva SA.

Graham said his concerns are about the funding of the program. “It’s not about him,” Graham said.

Obama’s budget proposal, sent to Congress earlier this month, would cut spending on the project by 27 percent, or almost $120 million, in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The administration said it would examine less costly ways to ensure the plutonium can never be used in nuclear weapons.

The Government Accountability Office last month estimated that the plant’s construction costs have risen to at least $7.7 billion from $4.9 billion when building began in 2007.

While Graham continues to block the nomination, Moniz has won broad bipartisan initial support in the Senate. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week approved the nomination by a 21-1 vote, with South Carolina Republican Tim Scott the only one voting no.

“I hope so” Graham said, when asked about prospects of getting resolved before next week’s recess.

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