The 2008 retirement of veteran Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), a key figure in shaping energy policy over the years, will be a major loss to the oil and natural gas industries.

Domenci, who will depart the Senate at the end of his sixth term, was the chief architect of the omnibus Energy Policy Act of 2005, which overhauled U.S. energy policy for the first time in 13 years (see NGI, Aug. 1, 2005). He also helped to shepherd through legislation in 2006 that provides access to the natural gas-rich Lease Sale 181 area of the eastern Gulf of Mexico (see NGI, Dec. 25, 2006).

The 75-year-old senator has been chairman or the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy Natural Resources Committee for the past five years, putting his imprint on nearly every major piece of legislation affecting energy markets during that period.

Domenici’s decision to resign is due in large part to health-related problems. Domenici revealed last Thursday that he has frontotemporal lobar degeneration, or FTLD, which is the fourth most common cause of dementia in people over the age of 65. The disease is marked by extreme changes in personality and behavior, with some sufferers becoming either very quiet and apathetic while others may engage in extremely erratic-embarrassing behavior. The disorder may also lead to cognitive and speech problems as well. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, memory often is not significantly impaired until the late stages of FTLD. There is no cure.

“The progress of this disease is apparently erratic and unpredictable,” Domenici said in Albuquerque, NM, last week. “It may well be that seven years from now, it will be stable. On the other hand, it may also be that the disease will have incapacitated me. I am not willing to take a chance that the people who have so honored me with their trust for 40 years might not be served as well as they deserve in the United States Senate,” he noted.

“At this time, I am doing very well and have no doubts that I will be able to serve New Mexico for the remainder of my term,” Domenici said.

Some believe a secondary reason for his resignation is an ongoing Senate ethics inquiry into whether he pressured then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias before the November 2006 election about a federal corruption case involving a former state lawmaker in New Mexico. Iglesias was one of several federal prosecutors who was fired by the Bush administration.

Domenici, who is known as “St. Pete” in his home state, is one of four Senate Republicans who will not seek reelection in late 2008, which will make it even more difficult for the party to recapture control of the Senate.

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