- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Senators focused on energy production from public lands yesterday as $3-a-gallon gasoline provided the backdrop to Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s Senate confirmation hearing to be interior secretary.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, reminded Mr. Kempthorne his duties would be “not the secretary of energy” but to serve as “steward in chief of our nation’s land and resources.”

“There has been criticism in the last several years of the Department of Interior, in particular, that there has been too much emphasis on commercial exploitation of resources, and not enough stewardship of the land and resources,” Mr. Bingaman said.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee plans to vote on the nomination within a few weeks. Testifying yesterday before the panel, Mr. Kempthorne said it would be a “great responsibility” to manage public lands and waters that produce 30 percent of the nation’s domestic supply of energy.

“All of America is experiencing pain at the pump with high gas prices,” Mr. Kempthorne, a former senator, told the panel. “This is an issue of economic security as well as national security.”

Idaho’s two Republican senators, Larry E. Craig and Michael D. Crapo, presented Mr. Kempthorne, who was accompanied by his wife, Patricia, and their children, Heather and Jeff. Mr. Craig called Mr. Kempthorne the best person for the job, noting that 40 governors have endorsed the nomination.

“He is a problem solver, a leader, and has demonstrated that he is a good steward of the land. Idaho is a perfect training ground for the issues that Dirk will deal with,” Mr. Craig said.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, also praised Mr. Kempthorne’s experience.

“It’s our hope we can get you quickly confirmed,” Mr. Domenici said. “We can’t afford to leave the department without permanent leadership.”

Democrats were keen on using the nomination as a bargaining chip to stop more oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or to gain a share of the proceeds for their states.

But even senators such as Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, who threatened to block the nomination, foresaw Mr. Kempthorne eventually taking the helm of the Interior Department.

“I think he’ll be confirmed, I really do,” Mr. Nelson said Wednesday.

Mr. Kempthorne served as a senator from 1993 through 1999, and the Senate rarely rejects a former member for the Cabinet.

Moreover, the Western Governors’ Association gave Mr. Kempthorne its unqualified support. Mr. Kempthorne “possesses extraordinary leadership skills and a keen understanding of public lands issues,” wrote the group of 18 governors.

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