GOP stalls confirmation on top Interior deputy

A tactic employed by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar while he was a U.S. senator is now standing in the way of confirming the nominee to become his top assistant.

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday rebuffed an effort to end a hold by Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, on the nomination of David Hayes to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department.

Bennett and other Republicans have objected to Salazar’s decision to withdraw 77 parcels from a Utah oil and gas lease sale, and Bennett says the Interior Department has failed to provide information about the withdrawal.

While a Democratic senator from Colorado, Salazar used the same maneuver in 2007 to stall the nomination of James Caswell as head of the Bureau of Land Management.

Salazar relented when his predecessor as Interior secretary, Dirk Kempthorne, agreed to give Colorado more time to comment on the BLM’s plans for energy development on the Roan Plateau northwest of Rifle.

The Senate voted 57-39 Wednesday to go forward with a confirmation vote on Hayes.

However, 60 votes were needed for the so-called “cloture” vote to end Bennett’s hold on the nomination.

“I will continue to work with the department to ensure that Utahns receive straight answers on the capricious decision to cancel these leases,” Bennett said in a prepared statement following Wednesday’s vote.

Salazar had offered to have Hayes visit Utah within 10 days of his confirmation and make recommendations on the parcels by May 29.

“This was a tired vote of bitter obstructionism,” Salazar said in a news release.

Republicans also are criticizing other decisions by Salazar, in areas from mountaintop coal mining to offshore energy development, since Salazar joined the Obama administration.

In a letter this week to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Salazar defended his agenda as being balanced. He wrote that the delays in getting Hayes confirmed “are hampering my ability to serve the President” and to work with Murkowski and others.

Salazar wrote that his Utah lease decision should be considered “within the context of my approval of literally hundreds of new onshore and offshore leases.”

He said he decided to withdraw and review the Utah leases after a federal court ruled the BLM failed to conduct an adequate air-pollution analysis and likely violated the law because it could not determine potential impacts on Canyonlands and Arches national parks and Dinosaur National Monument.


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