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Interior Pick Comes Under Fire for Views on Natural Gas

Senators Thursday blasted the Obama administration's nomination for a high-ranking position in the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife and Parks, citing her record opposing natural gas development and support for the funding of activist groups.

In 2007 Rhea S. Suh, the nominee for assistant secretary of Interior's Fish and Wildlife and Parks, said natural gas development is "easily the single greatest threat to the ecological integrity of the West," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) during a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee considering Suh's nomination and three other nominations.

"Given the views stated by you in 2007, I want to know how members of the Senate who support natural gas can support your nomination," he said. "How can the members of this committee suddenly expect you to change your view if confirmed?" He also called out what he said was her lifetime of funding of activist groups that oppose natural gas development.

"I question whether this is the right position for you, given your deeply held views," Barrasso said.

"I respect the role of it [natural gas], understand the need for it," Suh countered.

Barrasso said he was concerned that Suh, if confirmed, would be able to designate critical habitat, potentially closing off millions of acres of public land to oil and natural gas development.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking member of the committee, questioned Suh on Alaska issues. "I think you've got a pretty steep learning curve here when it comes to [the] policy implications on a state like Alaska. Can you give me the level of comfort that I am seeking?" she said.

"I have had quite a bit of experience in working on natural resource issues, policy issues as they relate to...Alaska," Suh said, but added "there's a ton that I have to learn about" the state.

At the confirmation hearing, the committee also heard from Franklin M. Orr, the Obama Administration's pick to be under secretary for science at the Department of Energy (DOE); Jonathan Elkind, nominated to be an assistant secretary of energy (International Affairs) at DOE, and Tommy P. Beaudreau, nominated to be an assistant secretary of  Interior (Policy, Management and Budget).

Because the Senate pulled an all-nighter Wednesday in voting out a slew of  judgeship nominations, the committee rescheduled the Thursday vote on Christopher A. Smith for assistant secretary of  DOE's Fossil Energy Office; Steven Croley for general counsel of DOE; and Esther P. Kia'aina for assistant secretary of Interior's Insular Areas (see Daily GPI, Nov. 14). A vote by the committee will probably be held Tuesday, a spokesman said.

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