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Energy Panel Clears Interior Nominee for Senate Confirmation

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last Wednesday unanimously approved by voice vote the nomination of Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to be the next secretary of the Department of Interior.

Kempthorne's nomination has been sent to the full Senate, where it is expected to be approved before the end of the month, according to Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM).

The nomination, however, will have some hurdles to overcome first. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has placed a hold on his nomination in an attempt to obtain greater sharing of offshore revenues between energy-friendly coastal states and the federal government. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who threatened to place a hold as well, decided last week that it was not necessary as long as Landrieu maintains her hold. Nelson is concerned about Kempthorne's position on expanded drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico near Florida's coastline.

At his confirmation hearing on May 4, Kempthorne indicated that he would do everything he could to expedite oil and gas permitting on western lands, but he was generally mum on the issue of drilling in the eastern Gulf and other protected waters (see NGI, May 8).

The Senate would need 60 votes to override a hold to bring the nomination up for a vote on the floor. An override could very likely occur, given that Kempthorne, 54, is a former senator and is well liked on Capitol Hill.

If confirmed by the Senate, Kempthorne would replace former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who stepped down as head of the department in March following five years with the Bush administration. "Interior needs a new leader immediately. I believe Dirk Kempthorne is well suited to this position. I will work with the leadership to try to schedule a vote on his nomination as soon as possible," Domenici said.

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.

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