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Governors, Clinton-Era Officials in Running for Interior

A crowded field of former and existing western governors and former Clinton-era officials are topping the list of candidates being mentioned for secretary of the Interior Department in an Obama administration.

Names being tossed around include former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles and Wyoming Gov. David Freudenthal. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE), had been mentioned for Interior, but he has been tapped to be Commerce Department secretary.

Another prominent figure believed to be in the running is Rep. Mike Thompson of California, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of moderate Democrats. He has been a member of Congress since 1998 and prior to that served in the California State Senate. Several members of the California delegation, including veteran Rep. George Miller, sent a letter to the Obama transition team last month asking that Thompson be considered for Interior. Several sportsmen groups also have sent letters supporting Thompson for the Interior post.

Two congressmen being mentioned are Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ), chairman of the House Natural Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands; and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), who sits on the House Natural Resources Committee, said Dan Naatz, vice president of federal resources at the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA).

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is backing Grijalva for Interior secretary. "As a member of the Committee on Natural Resources, and the chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Raul is well versed in the many pressing issues facing the Interior Department," Rahall wrote in a letter to President-elect Obama last Wednesday. Grijalva represents District 7 in Arizona, which borders Mexico and includes a number of Native American tribes.

Inslee, however, seems to be fading in the race for the Interior post, reported Friday.

Also said to be under consideration is John Leshy, currently a professor at the University of California. He was a prosecutor in the Justice Department; a member of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group; associate solicitor for energy and resources under the Carter administration; special chairman to Rep. Miller, when he chaired the House natural resources panel; and Interior solicitor during the Clinton administration.

Despite his credentials, Leshy could face problems. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has raised some concerns about Leshy's views on hard rock mining, said IPAA's Naatz.

David Hayes, who is overseeing the transition team on Interior, DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), also has been named as a possible contender. Even if he's not selected for Interior, he still "would be a significant player" in setting energy and environmental policy in the Obama administration, Naatz said. Hayes served as deputy secretary of Interior under the Clinton administration. He currently is an attorney in Washington, DC, specializing in energy and natural resources issues.

It probably will be a few more weeks before President-elect Obama announces his picks for Interior and the DOE, said Bill Wicker, spokesman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. At this point, "no one is viewed as the prohibitive favorite."

He noted that the Obama team still is mulling over whether it wants to establish a White House organization that would oversee energy and environmental policy issues. If it moves in that direction, Carol Browner, former EPA administrator in the Clinton administration, is considered a top pick to head it up.

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