Kempthorne faces grilling on drilling
WASHINGTON – As Dirk Kempthorne gears up for Senate hearings on his nomination to be interior secretary, a battle over offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico threatens to derail his confirmation.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has threatened to block Kempthorne’s confirmation if the Idaho governor shares the pro-drilling attitude of former Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
The Bush administration in February released a plan to open up about 2 million acres off the coast of Florida to oil and gas drilling.
“I’m going to object to anyone who intends to follow through with Norton’s plan to open vast areas off Florida to oil and gas rigs,” Nelson said in a statement.
Nelson won’t decide whether to block the confirmation until he talks with Kempthorne, a spokesman for the senator said. The two are scheduled to meet Tuesday.
Nelson could block Kempthorne using a Senate privilege called a hold, which a single senator can use to prevent a nominee from receiving consideration.
Kempthorne’s confirmation hearing is tentatively scheduled to begin May 4.
An official announcement from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will come next week.
Kempthorne served one term in the Senate in the 1990s but left to run for governor.
Former senators typically face an easy confirmation in the Senate, particularly one dominated by their own party – in this case, the Republicans.
If Nelson does place a hold on the nomination, it could be defeated with a 60-vote majority.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, has been working with Kempthorne to prepare him for the confirmation hearings.
“If a hold is placed on Gov. Kempthorne, Sen. Craig will be happy to sit down with any senator to talk about his or her concerns and see if they can’t be addressed,” said Craig’s spokesman, Sid Smith.
Kempthorne would be the second Idaho governor to serve as interior secretary. Cecil Andrus had the job under President Jimmy Carter.