Salazar draws praise, tough decisions await

Sen. Ken Salazar’s nomination hearing for Interior secretary Thursday was so absent of controversy that Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Senate confirms No. 2 spot at HHS, days after Price resigns Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax CEO faces outraged lawmakers | Dem presses voting machine makers on cyber defense | Yahoo says 3 billion accounts affected by 2013 breach MORE (D-Ore.) jokingly called it a “bouquet-tossing party.”

Several other questioners on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee referred to Salazar as a good friend, praising both his head and his heart.

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Behind the praise, though, were warnings that Salazar, a Democratic senator from Colorado who does not plan to resign his seat until he wins confirmation, will face several controversial issues that could someday strain those rosy relationships he now enjoys with colleagues.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRepublicans jockey for position on immigration GOP senator knocks Trump: 'Not a fan of governing by tweet' How the effort to replace ObamaCare failed MORE (R-Alaska), the committee’s ranking member, asked Salazar about one: whether he would support the reinstatement of drilling bans in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

The OCS had been protected by congressional and administration drilling bans, except for areas in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of Southern California and Alaska, but the bans are no longer in effect.

Now that gas prices have tumbled as oil demand has dropped in the global economic downturn, the question of whether to open the OCS to additional drilling isn’t as hot a political issue as it was last summer. But the hearing made clear that the subject is still a point of interest for senators, who don’t necessarily hold the same opinions on the subject.

Setting a pattern that he would amiably maintain throughout the hearing, Salazar dodged Murkowski’s question, saying the incoming administration would review the issue as part of a broader energy plan.

“We need to develop our resources, but we need to do it in a thoughtful and responsible way,” Salazar said.
Salazar was also noncommittal on the issue of whether the Obama administration would maintain a Bush administration policy of allowing visitors to carry guns in national parks. Salazar described himself as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment: “I have a healthy respect for guns, and I know how to use a gun.” But he said he hadn’t reviewed the Interior Department rule, even though — as a few Republican senators noted — he had expressed support for the policy as a senator.

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrTrump: Why isn't Senate looking into 'Fake News Networks'? Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open Special counsel looking into dossier as part of Russia probe: report MORE (R-N.C.) asked Salazar for a pledge to support commercial development of oil shale. Salazar said he would not close the door on the possible development of oil shale reserves, which are located principally in his home state of Colorado.

He said that several questions needed to be answered, however, like how much water the process of heating the shale to squeeze the oil is needed, and how much energy that process consumes. In what was one of the more direct exchanges of the hearing, Salazar said that the technology to develop oil shale was still years away from being commercially viable anyway, giving the Interior Department further time to answer the questions.

Salazar also punted a question from Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoDems lambaste Trump’s ‘outrageous’ EPA chemical safety pick Overnight Regulation: EPA misses smog rule deadline | Search is on for new HHS chief | ACLU sues over abortion pill restrictions | Justices weigh gerrymandering Price resignation sets off frenzy of speculation over replacement MORE (R-Wyo.) concerning the use of the Endangered Species Act to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, although he did defend the law generally. The Interior Department has listed the polar bear as threatened in part because of global warming, but the Bush administration has said the decision should not affect how emitting industries are regulated.

Salazar also agreed with the position expressed by Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellUse tax reform to strengthen what’s working: The low-income housing tax credit Senate energy bill is misguided gift to Trump’s dirty fossil fuel agenda Help states solve their housing problems with the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act MORE (D-Wash.) that a more than century old mining law needs to be updated, though he did not provide details about how it should be revised. Environmental groups want the mining law changed to apply royalties to operations and to use the revenue to clean up abandoned mines. Mining companies, however, have fought what they see as excessive royalties.