Senate Confirms Dirk Kempthorne as Interior Secretary

The Senate confirmed Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) by voice vote today as the 49th secretary of the Interior, after easily approving a cloture motion to end procedural holds on the nomination.

"I'm very gratified with the vote of the Senate," Kempthorne told Greenwire after his confirmation.

The Senate's action occurred just before Capitol Police locked down the Capitol Building and House and Senate office buildings to investigate reports of gunshots in the Rayburn House Office Building garage.

The cloture motion passed, 85-8, with only Democrats opposing the measure. Voting against cloture were: Sens. Joe Biden (Del.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Mark Dayton (Minn.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), John Kerry (Mass.), Herb Kohl (Wis.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.).

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved Kempthorne's nomination by voice vote May 10, but two Gulf Coast Democrats -- Nelson and Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.) -- blocked the full Senate from voting on confirmation.

Nelson is upset with the administration's plan to sell oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico's Lease Sale 181 area. Interior oversees the Minerals Management Service, which earlier this year released a draft five-year plan for oil and gas leases on the outer continental shelf that proposes leasing 2 million acres in the Lease Sale 181 area.

In a speech this morning before the cloture vote, Nelson said he is fighting for the future of Florida's tourism-driven economy. "It is the source of sustenance for millions of residents and visitors alike," he said. "As a part of my promise to Florida, I have said I could not support an Interior secretary who would advance this administration's willingness to acquiesce to the oil lobby and its ever-increasing desire for greater profits beyond even the recent, record levels."

Once he formally resigns as governor and takes over at Interior, Kempthorne said he will unveil his entire agenda. He declined to say what issues are at the top of his list.

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) said energy production will be a top priority for the department. "I have suggested to him that in the course of two and a half years he ultimately will produce more energy than the secretary of Energy," Craig said.

During his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Kempthorne said he would focus on the department's ethical issues on his first official day as secretary.

"If confirmed, the first day I am secretary of Interior, I will be sitting down with the Office of Ethics and will also discuss the topic of ethics with the employees of the department of Interior," he told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

In keeping with department ethics rules, Kempthorne also acknowledged he expects to recuse himself for one year on issues that involve Interior and Idaho's state government. These would likely include management of endangered species such as salmon, grizzly bears and wolves in the state, he told reporters (E&E Daily, May 5).

Landrieu hold lifted

Landrieu released her hold last night, citing "significant progress" on her attempt to divert offshore oil and gas revenues to fund coastal and flood protection projects. She did not mention the likely reality that she lacks the votes to back up her hold.

"We've got their attention," Landrieu said of the White House and Senate leaders last night. "They're listening to us. They're working with us. There appears to be a new attitude, and I want to do everything possible to open the door further, to continue building on the progress we're making."

In a statement yesterday released by Landrieu's office, Kempthorne said he was "encouraged" by the ongoing discussions on offshore leasing in the gulf. Kempthorne also said he would accept Landrieu's "invitation to make one of my first official trips as secretary a tour of Louisiana's wetlands."

Kempthorne may have to wait before making that trip, having recently broken his foot jogging. Walking on crutches off the Senate floor today, Kempthorne made light of the injury. "It's broken. It will heal," he said. "I'll get a walking cast and start visiting this country of ours."

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