Under Fire, BLM Director Nominee to Appear in Senate

President Bush's selection to head the Bureau of Land Management is already facing a procedural hold due to a fight on natural gas drilling in Colorado. This week, he gets to explain his thoughts on energy production at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on several pending nominations.

The committee will also hear from two Energy Department nominees: Clarence Albright to be undersecretary of Energy and Lisa Epifani to be an assistant secretary of Energy for congressional and intergovernmental affairs.

Bush nominated Jim Caswell, currently the director of Idaho's Office of Species Conservation, to head the BLM at the end of May. Caswell and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne have close ties, as Kempthorne created the species conservation office as Idaho governor in 2000.

If confirmed, Caswell would succeed Kathleen Clarke, who left BLM in February. Jim Hughes is serving as acting director.

Last month, Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) said he would place a "hold" on Caswell to protest the Interior Department's plan to allow natural gas drilling atop Colorado's Roan Plateau.

Salazar and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) had asked Interior for a 120-day extension to review the draft management plan for the Roan Plateau, which would allow up to 1,570 new natural gas wells as early as next year. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association claims the plateau could hold 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas -- enough to power 4 million homes for the next 20 years.

In Idaho, Caswell has worked on a series of high-profile land management and endangered species issues, including the potential state-specific rule governing 9.3 million acres of roadless national forest land and management plans for the gray wolf and Yellowstone grizzly bear under the Endangered Species Act.

Caswell has focused on bringing different interests together to promote conservation and recovery for species such as the northern Idaho ground squirrel, especially on private lands. Caswell has also been a key figure in Idaho's push to develop what would be the first state-specific rule for roadless areas on national forests, potentially allowing some logging and mineral development (Greenwire, May 31).

Committee to vet DOE nominees

The committee will also consider White House nominations for two high-level Energy Department positions.

President Bush nominated Clarence Albright, who goes by Bud, to be the undersecretary of Energy. Albright is heading to DOE from his role as GOP staff director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Prior positions include vice president of federal affairs at Reliant Energy and deputy associate attorney general at the Department of Justice, according to the White House.

The committee will also consider a familiar face to be assistant secretary of energy for congressional and intergovernmental affairs. The White House nominated Lisa Epifani, who is currently the special assistant to the president for Economic Policy at the National Economic Council. Until early 2006, she served as GOP counsel to the Senate Energy Committee and has also served as senior legislative counsel in DOE's Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Schedule: The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 12, in 366 Dirksen.

Witnesses: Jim Caswell, Clarence Albright and Lisa Epifani.

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