An Incomplete List of Senate Holds on Obama Administration Nominees 1

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 02 Nov 2009 17:02:00 GMT

Active holds are bolded.

White House
  • Nancy Sutley, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman – John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
  • Cass Sunstein, OIRA director – Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)
  • John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy – Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), anonymous
Department of Energy
  • Richard Newell, administrator of the Energy Information Administration – John McCain (R-Ariz.)
  • Ines Triay, assistant secretary of environmental management – Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)
  • Kristina Johnson, undersecretary for energy – Kyl
  • Steven Koonin, undersecretary for science – Kyl
  • Scott Blake Harris, general counsel – Kyl
Environmental Protection Agency
  • Lisa Jackson, administrator – Barrasso
  • Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for air and radiation – Barrasso
  • Robert Perciasepe, deputy administrator – George Voinovich (R-Ohio)
Interior
  • David Hayes, deputy secretary – Robert Bennett (R-Utah), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
  • Hilary Tompkins, solicitor – Bennett, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and other anonymous Rs
  • Jon Jarvis, National Park Service director – Coburn
  • Wilma Lewis, assistant secretary for land and mineral management – McCain
  • Robert Abbey, Bureau of Land Management administrator – McCain
  • Joseph Pizarchik, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement – anonymous D
State
  • Harold Koh, legal adviser to the State Department – Jim DeMint (R-S.C.)
  • Susan Burk, Special Representative for Non-Proliferation – DeMint
  • Thomas Shannon Jr., ambassador to Brazil – DeMint, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
  • Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security – Kyl, released June 25
  • Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs – DeMint
Labor
  • Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor – anonymous R
  • Craig Becker, National Labor Relations Board – McCain
Commerce
  • Jane Lubchenco, director of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Menendez, anonymous
Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • Craig Fugate, director – David Vitter (R-La.), released May 12
Commodity Futures Trading Commission
  • Gary Gensler, chairman – Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), released May 14

Forest Service Oversight

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 11 Mar 2009 13:30:00 GMT

Witnesses
  • Robin Nazzaro, director for natural resources and the environment, GAO
  • Phyllis Fong, inspector general,Agriculture Department
E&E News:
House appropriators will delve into the state of the Forest Service on Wednesday, likely focusing on the escalating cost of wildfires and the agency’s fire management plans.

The session is one in a series of pre-budget hearings designed to get assessments and input from federal watchdogs on the operation of agencies overseen by the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.

One inescapable topic is how to fix the Forest Service’s budget problems due to wildfire costs. In recent years, the agency has run out of firefighting money and had to transfer hundreds of millions from its other programs to cover the wildfire costs, causing major disruptions to its other priorities.

The Obama administration wants to create a new contingent reserve fund for catastrophic wildfires. The fund would be tapped only if federal agencies exhaust regularly budgeted money for wildfires, which would continue to be fully funded based on the 10-year average cost of fire suppression.

The discretionary reserve fund would include $75 million for Interior agencies and $282 million for the Forest Service for firefighting. The fund would be tapped into after the $1.1 billion appropriated 10-year average runs out.

Salazar Announces Change from 'Headlong Rush' into Offshore Drilling

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 11 Feb 2009 22:28:00 GMT

From the Wonk Room.

Ken SalazarAnnouncing that “the time for reform has arrived,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar set aside the Bush administration’s “midnight timetable” for offshore drilling. “On Friday, January 16, its last business day in office,” Salazar explained in his Feburary 10th press conference, “the Bush Administration proposed a new five year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing.” The Bush plan called for the completion of meetings and hearings by March 23. Salazar decried this “broken process”:

It was a headlong rush of the worst kind. It was a process rigged to force hurried decisions based on bad information. It was a process tilted toward the usual energy players while renewable energy companies and the interests of American consumers and taxpayers were overlooked.

Salazar announced he “will extend the public comment period by 180 days, get a report on offshore energy resources, hold regional conferences and expedite rulemaking for offshore renewable energy resources.”

Salazar made it clear that his definition of “energy independence” does not mean a “drill only” future. He rebuked the “oil and gas or nothing” approach of the Bush administration, who ignored the Energy Policy Act of 2005’s mandate to develop regulations for offshore renewables:
I intend to do what the Bush Administration refused to do: build a framework for offshore renewable energy development, so that we incorporate the great potential for wind, wave, and ocean current energy into our offshore energy strategy. The Bush Administration was so intent on opening new areas for oil and gas offshore that it torpedoed offshore renewable energy efforts.

Obama Selects Vilsack for Agriculture, Salazar for Interior

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 17 Dec 2008 19:44:00 GMT

From the transition team:
In announcing Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as his choice for Secretary of the Interior and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture, President-elect Barack Obama made clear he considers both Secretaries-designate to be key members of his energy and environment team.

“It’s time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that’s committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all our families,” President-elect Obama said. “That is the kind of leadership embodied by Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack.”

In their remarks, Secretaries-designate Salazar and Vilsack both emphasized their commitment to focusing on energy issues.

“I look forward to working directly with President-elect Obama as an integral part of his team as we take the moon shot on energy independence,” Secretary-designate Salazar said. “That energy imperative will create jobs here in America, protect our national security, and confront the dangers of global warming.”

Secretary-designate Vilsack spoke of his commitment to “promote American leadership in response to global climate change,” and declared his intent to “place nutrition at the center of all food programs administered by the Department.”

At the Nation, John Nichols criticizes the selection of Vilsack as “at best, a cautious pick,” saying “Obama could have done better, much better.” Nichols pointed to progressive food politics leaders such as writer Michael Pollan, Tom Buis, the president of the National Farmers Union, Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Rod Nilsestuen or North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture Roger Johnson.
Even more impressive would have been former North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture Sarah Vogel, an always-ahead-of-the-curve advocate for food safety and fair trade. The same can be said for Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a former policy analyst in Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture who co-founded and for many years led the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

(Buis praised Vilsack’s selection in the New York Times and Washington Post.)

The Center for Biological Diversity calls Sen. Salazar’s record “especially weak in the arenas most important to the next Secretary of the Interior: protecting scientific integrity, combating global warming, reforming energy development and protecting endangered species.”

In contrast, the League of Conservation Voters calls both “skilled, knowledgeable leaders committed to protecting our environment and rebuilding our economy with clean, renewable energy.”

At the New Republic, Bradford Plumer delves into the scandal-ridden Department of Interior Salazar will inherit.

The Danger of Deception: Do Endangered Species Have a Chance?

Posted by Wonk Room Wed, 21 May 2008 14:00:00 GMT

Witnesses

Panel 1
  • Robin Nazarro, Director, Natural Resources and Environment Program, U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • R. Lyle Laverty, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Department of the Interior
  • Accompanied by: Ren Lohoefener, Fish and Wildlife Service and Ed Shepard, Bureau of Land Management
  • Jane Luxton, General Counsel, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Dr. Francesca T. Grifo, Ph.D., Senior Scientist and Director, Scientific Integrity Program, Union of Concerned Scientists
Panel 2
  • Scott D. Kraus, Ph.D., Vice President of Research, New England Aquarium
  • Dr. Jerry F. Franklin, Ph.D., College of Forest Resources, University of Washington
  • Scott Hoffman Black, Executive Director, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
  • David Parsons, Science Fellow, The Rewilding Institute
  • Larry Irwin, National Council for Air & Stream Improvement
From E&E News:
Political appointee at center of polar bear decision to testify (05/19/2008) Allison Winter, E&E Daily reporter

House lawmakers will get the chance this week to grill a key Interior Department official on whether there was any political manipulation in the decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species.

Lyle Laverty, a political appointee who serves as Interior’s assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, is scheduled to appear before the House Natural Resources Committee.

The hearing is a follow up on an investigation committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) started after Julie MacDonald, a deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, resigned in the wake of a scandal that linked her to meddling in and editing scientific decisions on endangered species issues.

Lawmakers will take a broad look at political influence on endangered species decisions, Rahall said in an interview last week. But given that it is following on the heels of the polar bear listing decision, questions about the bear would likely be a focus.

“Decisions in regard to ESA should always be based on sound science and not politics,” Rahall said. “I am sure it will be an item for discussion.”

Laverty has been a key figure in the polar bear decision. In court filings submitted in response to the lawsuit over the listing, Laverty described months of back-and-forth discussions over the listing among Interior lawyers and representatives in his office.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced last week he would list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The listing is based on threats to the bear from the effects of climate change on its polar habitat, but Kempthorne specified that it should not allow the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions linked to warming temperatures.

The agency included a special rule to allow continued development of natural resources in the Arctic and power plants in the lower 48 states. That rule ignited the outrage of some Democrats on Capitol hill, including Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who sits on the Natural Resources Committee.

“This is a fraud,” said Inslee. “The administration effectively decided to make a listing, but said it wouldn’t make a difference in government action. That’s not a listing, it’s a cop out.”

The announcement came after multiple delays and lawsuits to force protection of the bear. Environmentalists and several Democratic lawmakers – including Inslee – have suspected the administration was stalling to try to avoid protecting the bear, or to allow oil leasing in its habitat in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea to go forward. Administration officials have maintained they were just trying to complete a thorough review of a very complicated listing.

Questions for lawyers?

The listing decision was originally mandated by law for early January, but Interior officials postponed it until a lawsuit forced them to complete the decision last week. Kempthorne said last week that the January postponement was necessary because the agency needed time to complete its analysis of the scientific data.

In court filings about the polar bear listing, Laverty described a back-and-forth process among agency lawyers in D.C. while the listing stalled.

The Alaska field office sent its draft final listing recommendation to Washington on Dec. 14. On the basis of that recommendation, Fish and Wildlife Service officials developed a draft listing determination, which they completed in early February. That decision “raised various factual and legal issues” with the Office of the Solicitor, according to Laverty’s legal filing.

Interior then developed a working group with staff from both FWS and the solicitor’s office. That group concluded its work in mid-February, and FWS Director Dale Hall approved their recommendation. The decision then went to Laverty, who sent it back to the solicitor’s office for further review.

“I am informed that public comments and internal departmental review of this listing determination raised significant and complex factual and legal issues,” Laverty wrote in his court testimony.

Among the questionable items, Laverty said, were the reliability of data used for the listing and the degree of uncertainty around the climate modeling tools. Before the final listing was released, Laverty’s office and the solicitor’s office continued to review it.

“These are not questions for lawyers, these are factual questions for scientists in the field office,” said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued the administration to force the listing.

GAO investigation

The panel will also hear from the director of natural resources at the Government Accountability Office, the general counsel at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and wildlife experts from nonprofits and universities.

GAO is also expected to release this week new findings in its review of Interior’s self-review of its endangered species listing program. FWS is revising several rulings MacDonald was involved in and developed a new policy intended to keep scientific decisions from reaching political levels.

Kempthorne: Polar Bear 'Threatened' By Decline of Arctic Sea Ice, But Drilling Can Continue

Posted by Wonk Room Thu, 15 May 2008 12:16:00 GMT

Originally posted at the Wonk Room.

After years of delay, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne made a landmark decision on whether global warming pollution is regulated by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Kempthorne ruled that the polar bear should be classified as a “threatened species” due to the decline of polar sea ice, critical to its survival. Kempthorne stated:

They are likely to become endangered in the near future.

The Department of Interior, under Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, fought for several years in the courts since 2005 to avoid making a decision on whether the precipitous decline in Arctic sea ice due to global warming is making the polar bear an endangered species. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dale Hall testified in January that there was no significant scientific uncertainty in the endangerment posed by global warming to polar bears—the only legal justification under the Endangered Species Act for a delay.

Kempthone’s decision to follow the science is in marked contrast to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson’s action to override his staff in refusing to regulate tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions.

However, Kempthorne also argued vigorously that his decison does not compel the Bush administration to construct a plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, repeating President Bush’s entirely spurious claim that would be a “wholly inappropriate use” of the Endangered Species Act. The Interior news release announces, “Rule will allow continuation of vital energy production in Alaska.” Kempthorne claimed that the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) is “more stringent” than the ESA, despite the court ruling that compelled him to make today’s ruling stating that “the protections afforded under the ESA far surpass those provided by the MMPA.”

Despite his protestations, Kempthorne’s decision clearly calls into question the legality of the sale of oil and gas drilling rights in polar bear habitat on February 6, while the polar bear decision was being illegally delayed.

Kempthorne complained that the Endangered Species Act is “one of the most inflexible” pieces of legislation because it didn’t allow him to consider economic impacts when protecting species like the polar bear from extinction.

From the Department of Interior press release on the 368-page rule:
To make sure the ESA is not misused to regulate global climate change, Kempthorne promised the following actions:
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a 4(d) rule that states that if an activity is permissible under the stricter standards of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is also permissible under the ESA with respect to the polar bear. This rule, effective immediately, will ensure the protection of the bear while allowing us to continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region in an environmentally sound way.
  • Director Hall will issue guidance to staff that the best scientific data available today cannot make a causal connection between harm to listed species or their habitats and greenhouse gas emissions from a specific facility, or resource development project or government action.
  • The Department will issue a Solicitor’s Opinion further clarifying these points.
  • The Department will propose common sense modifications to the existing ESA regulatory language to prevent abuse of this listing to erect a back-door climate policy outside our normal system of political accountability.

Andy Revkin at Dot Earth concludes, “So this leaves everything as it was, in a way, with the bears facing a transforming ecosystem and environmentalists successful in their litigation, but not necessarily empowered by the listing.” At Climate Progress Joe Romm calls the decision “bye-polar disorder.”

Sierra Club spokesman Josh Dorner tells the Wonk Room, “This is the regulatory equivalent of a signing statement—only this one gets to be challenged in court.”

Nominations of Kameran L. Onley, of Washington, to be an Assistant Secretary of the Interior and Jeffrey F. Kupfer, of Maryland, to be Deputy Secretary of Energy

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 30 Apr 2008 19:30:00 GMT

E&E News:
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will consider a pair of Bush administration nominees for posts at the Interior and Energy departments, both of which have already been serving in those positions for months on an acting basis.

Jeffrey Kupfer is nominated to be DOE’s deputy secretary, the No. 2 position at the department. Kupfer is already serving on an acting basis, replacing Clay Sell, who left the department at the end of February.

Kupfer previously served as chief of staff for Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. Before that, he served as a special assistant to the president for economic policy at the White House and earlier as executive director of the President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform.

During the first half of the decade, Kupfer held several positions at the Treasury Department, and the Harvard-educated lawyer has also worked on Capitol Hill as counsel for multiple committees. Interior water and science

At Interior, Kameran Onley would become assistant secretary for water and science. She has been doing that job since July, while also serving as assistant deputy secretary since January 2006.

She previously served as a special assistant to the chairman of the White House Counsel on Environmental Quality. Onley led the policy group that produced Bush’s Ocean Action Plan, an interagency effort to enhance leadership and coordination on ocean management.

At Interior, Onley has led the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force and co-chaired the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. She also served as the lead Interior official in the management of the new Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii.

Prior to joining the Bush administration, Onley was an associate director at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. She earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Seattle University and a master’s in agricultural economics from Clemson University.

FY 2009 Department of Interior Budget

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 15 Apr 2008 14:00:00 GMT

The Listing Decision for the Polar Bear Under the Endangered Species Act

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 02 Apr 2008 14:00:00 GMT

Dirk Kempthorne has not confirmed attendance.

Witnesses
  • The Honorable Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior (INVITED)
  • Dr. Douglas B. Inkley, Senior Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
  • Kassie R. Siegel, Director of the Climate, Air, and Energy Program, Center for Biological Diversity
  • William P. Horn Esq., Birch, Horton, Bittner & Cherot

Boxer Requests Hearing with Interior Secretary over Polar Bear Delays

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 24 Mar 2008 15:34:00 GMT

On Thursday March 20, Sen. Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne asking him “to appear before the Committee as soon as possible for an oversight hearing” on the “considerable delays in taking final action” over the Endangered Species Act listing of the polar bear. Boxer told him that the hearing would be planned for April 2 or 8.

The following day, Lyle Laverty, Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, faxed back a response at 5:56 PM saying:
I understand Secretary Kempthorne called you on March 17, 2008, and expressed his commitment to testify before the Committee on the polar bear proposal once a decision is made on the issue. I also understand the Secretary committed to calling you on Tuesday, April 1, 2008, with an update on the progress towards a decision.

Boxer immediately responded, calling the offer of a telephone briefing and a hearing after a decision has been made “wholly inadequate,” and again requested the April 2 or 8 date for a hearing discussing “this serious breach of the Department’s duty to follow the law.”

It has been nearly a month since FWS director Dale Hall stated in a House Appropriations Committee hearing that he had submitted his decision on the polar bear listing to Secretary Kempthorne.

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