Senate Clears BLM Director After Interior Blinks on Roan Plateau

The Interior Department on Friday gave the state of Colorado more time to comment on the oil and gas drilling plan for the Roan Plateau, clearing the way for the Senate to approve the nomination of Jim Caswell as the Bureau of Land Management director.

Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) lifted his procedural "hold" on Caswell after hearing from Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. Salazar was using the BLM nomination to secure concessions on the bureaus's oil and gas operations.

Before leaving for its August recess, the Senate also approved: Clarence "Bud" Albright as undersecretary of Energy; Kevin Kolevar as assistant secretary of Energy for Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability; Lisa Epifani as assistant secretary of Energy for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs; and Brent Wahlquist to direct the Office of Surface Mining. All five nominations were approved by unanimous consent.

Kempthorne agreed to provide a 120-day extension for Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) to review BLM's Roan Plateau resource management plan, according to Salazar's office.

"This is an important first step in working towards a cooperative relationship between the state of Colorado, the BLM and the Interior Department with respect to how we move forward on the Roan Plateau and responsible oil shale development and oil and gas leasing issues," Salazar said in a statement Friday.

"What is just as important is what the department does after the 120-day period," Salazar added. "Secretary Kempthorne gave me his commitment that the BLM will respond in good faith to the comments and concerns raised during the review period and address them."

Caswell has served as director of Idaho's Office of Species Conservation since Kempthorne created the job as Idaho governor in 2000. At a hearing in June, Caswell said he favors a multiple-use philosophy for BLM lands.

Roan Plateau in House energy bill

Sen. Salazar's brother, Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.), and Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) inserted language in the House energy bill that would prohibit surface occupancy for exploration or development atop Roan Plateau.

The provision would still allow BLM to receive royalty and bonus bids, but industry groups say the prohibition would reduce interest.

The House passed the energy bill Saturday.

BLM's plan would allow up to 1,570 new natural gas wells atop Roan Plateau 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.

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