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Bush Taps Idaho Governor as Next Interior Secretary; Nomination to be Blocked

Offshore drilling foe Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said Friday he intends to place a hold on the nomination of two-term Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to be the next secretary of Interior, citing concerns over the nominee's friendly view of the oil and natural gas industry.

"Gov. Kempthorne has a record of not adequately protecting the environment; and, he seems to share the administration's friendly view of the oil industry," said Nelson less than a day after President Bush announced the nomination of Kempthorne. "I have serious concerns about whether he would keep oil and gas away from Florida's coast. So I intend to place a hold on him over these concerns."

President Bush on Thursday tapped Kempthorne for Interior secretary, selecting a western Republican who has national presence and close ties to Capitol Hill. Kempthorne, 54, would replace Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who plans to step down as head of the department at the end of this month following five years with the Bush administration.

"Dirk Kempthorne is the right man to build on [the] progress" during the Norton era, Bush told reporters. He "will continue my administration's efforts to...develop the energy potential of federal lands and waters in environmentally sensitive ways."

Kempthorne was first elected governor of Idaho in 1998, following a six-year stint as a U.S. senator. Prior to coming to the Senate, he served as mayor of Boise, ID, for seven years. Because of his previous ties to Capitol Hill, some observers believe his nomination will not face any insurmountable problems in the Senate. "Dirk is a strong nominee," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN).

But even before Kempthorne was tapped, Nelson vowed to block the White House's successor to Norton if the nominee supported additional leasing in the natural gas-rich area known as Lease Sale 181 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The nomination of Kempthorne has come under attack from environmentalists as well. "At a time when these controversial issues need a leader who can find common ground, the president could not have chosen a more divisive nominee," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. "As a senator and a governor, Dirk Kempthorne has been an unabashed champion of the resource extraction and development interests that profit most from public lands. He has led the fight to open the last untouched 30% of the national forests to logging, mining and oil and gas drilling."

However, Kempthorne sees himself as a consensus-builder. "One of the hallmarks of my public service has been my ability to bring people to the table and to work together to build consensus. I pledge to you [President Bush] and to the American people that I will continue in that role of reaching our and finding solutions," he said during the press briefing announcing his nomination.

As Idaho's governor, Kempthorne has served as chairman of the National Governors Association, chairman of the Western Governors Association, and president of the Council of State Governments. He is married and has two grown children.

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