INTERIOR: No Agreement on Gulf Drilling Between Kempthorne, Sen. Nelson

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) met this week with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) to discuss the senator's concerns on oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, but reached no agreement on an issue that could delay Kempthorne's confirmation as Interior secretary.

Nelson has threatened to place a procedural "hold" on Kempthorne's nomination once it hits the Senate floor over the Bush administration's proposal to offer oil and gas lease sales in 2 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico's Lease Sale 181 area.

Kempthorne said he had a "positive conversation" with Nelson but declined to elaborate further. "I just appreciate again the good discussion that we had," he told reporters. "Very professional and I appreciate their perspective, that was helpful."

The nominee is meeting with senators in advance of tomorrow's Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. "This has gone very well," Kempthorne said. "We're encouraged."

Nelson called Kempthorne "a delightful fella who has a solid reputation" and told reporters he expects the Idaho governor to eventually be confirmed. However, Nelson hopes the governor will convey his concerns over the Gulf of Mexico leasing plan to the Bush administration, but Kempthorne gave no assurances.

"What I want is the administration to be reasonable in their approach to drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico," Nelson said. "The best answer I can give you is that it was a very friendly and frank discussion."

Domenici 181 bill

At tomorrow's hearing, Kempthorne will have to walk a fine line in his responses on Gulf Coast leases. Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and ranking member Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) are cosponsoring legislation that would open up a larger portion of the 181 area to oil and gas development than the administration's plan, and Kempthorne must avoid upsetting them (E&E Daily, May 1).

Several GOP senators have tabbed Domenici's 181 bill as the possible vehicle for other energy policy proposals.

Asked whether he would filibuster Domenici's Lease Sale 181 bill, Nelson said only that he wants to keep all his options open.

"As we see this energy bill come to the floor we'll be able to judge whether or not people are going to be reasonable in approaching this or whether they're going to shove drilling down Florida's throat," Nelson said.

"They are sure getting hot and lathered up over there to get it to the floor," Nelson said. "But there is something called the legislative clock, and it is ticking."

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