Interior Secretary Yields in Showdown over Utah Leases

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones Newswires), May 21, 2009

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday acquiesced in a showdown with Senate Republicans over oil and gas leases in Utah, promising to review leases canceled earlier this year "one by one" to determine which, if any, are appropriate for development.

Sens. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, had protested the canceled leases by blocking the Obama administration from filling the No. 2 position at the Interior Department.

The lawmakers Wednesday said that they would no longer try to stymie the Senate from confirming David Hayes as deputy Interior secretary, a position he held in the Clinton administration

"While it's unfortunate that it required a showdown on the Senate floor, it's important that the administration respond in full and in a timely matter to senators' questions," Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. "The Obama administration has spoken frequently about taking a balanced approach to energy policy and now it knows that we're serious about holding it to that commitment."

Earlier this year, the Interior Department backed out of a late-2008 deal on 77 leases to drill for oil and gas in wilderness areas of Utah. Environmental groups had said that the Bush administration rushed so that the leases would be finalized before President Barack Obama took office, and in its haste failed to complete the analysis required by law to protect cultural and natural resources.

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