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Senate Republicans Block Interior Nomination

The nomination of David Hayes to be deputy secretary of the Department of Interior fell victim to the ongoing war between Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and natural resources interests as a cloture vote aimed at bringing the nomination to the floor failed.

Democrats fell three votes shy (57-39) of the 60 votes that were needed to invoke cloture and end debate on Hayes' nomination. The Republicans were unified in their opposition to Hayes; all but two Republicans voted against cloture. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called for the cloture vote, even though two Republican senators had holds on Hayes' nomination.

Democrats are expected to bring up Hayes' nomination for another vote this week, a Capitol Hill aide said. And Hayes may very well be confirmed, given that the five Democrats who were absent from last Wednesday's vote are expected to be on hand for a second vote.

Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) has had a hold on Hayes' nomination since March. He said he was dissatisfied with Hayes' response to his questions about disputed Utah oil and natural gas leases (see NGI, March 23).

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined Bennett in his hold on Hayes earlier this month (see NGI, May 4). She protested the Obama administration's decision to "unilaterally overturn" a Bush-era regulation that allowed federal agencies to forgo "broad interagency consultations" with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration before taking any action that may affect threatened or endangered species. Murkowski also has expressed concerns about Interior's actions with respect to oil and gas.

"This was a tired vote of bitter obstructionism," Salazar said of the Senate vote. "It may be uncomfortable for some to watch us have to clean up mess after mess...that is the previous administration's legacy at Interior, but to cast a vote against such a qualified and fine person is the height of cynicism."

In the meantime Salazar last Wednesday claimed he and the Obama administration have "embraced" both onshore and offshore oil and natural gas development.

"The Obama administration [and] the Department of Interior have embraced oil and gas development as part of our energy portfolio," he said in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy in Washington, DC. "We look forward to finding additional ways to explore and drill for oil and gas."

Salazar conceded he has made "two or three [moves] that have been specifically somewhat controversial" with respect to oil and gas, such as withdrawing 77 leases in Utah and delaying the development of a new five-year offshore leasing plan for 2010-2015 (see NGI, Feb. 16; Feb. 9).

<>"I took them [Utah leases] back not necessarily forever, but to make sure that the environmental issues...were in fact adequately addressed," he said. As for the leasing plan (2010-2015) that's on hold, Salazar said he didn't believe the Bush administration had given the public and stakeholders enough time to comment on the plan. Salazar indicated that Interior "will take a look" at a proposed lease sale off the coast of Virginia as it develops its own leasing plan for 2010-2015.

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