Vitter blocks Interior nominee over Gulf drilling concerns

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said Wednesday he will block the nomination of a key Interior Department official until the Obama administration extends the life of Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leases by one year.

“If these leases are allowed to expire, they will revert to the federal government, killing jobs and cutting off potential revenue from exploration and production,” Vitter said in a statement. “The U.S. economy will greatly benefit by allowing the offshore energy industry to get to work and stay working.”

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Vitter said he’ll block the nomination of Rebecca Wodder to be Interior’s assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks until the department "extends hundreds of Gulf of Mexico drilling leases that are set to expire this year."

President Obama announced in May that the administration will extend the life of leases in the Gulf that were affected by the administration’s post-BP-oil-spill moratorium on deepwater drilling. Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement is currently in the process of granting yearlong lease extensions to operators.

“Senator Vitter’s request is perplexing, and we expect that he will lift his hold since we took action on this a month and a half ago," Interior spokesman Adam Fetcher said in a statement.


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Wodder’s nomination has come under fire from Republicans in recent weeks. GOP lawmakers including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have argued that Wodder’s involvement with two major conservation groups presents a conflict of interest.

It’s the latest effort by Vitter to hobble the Interior Department over his concerns about offshore drilling in the Gulf. Vitter blocked the nomination of another Interior official in February until the department issued 15 deepwater drilling permits. He lifted his hold in June.

In May, Vitter said he would block Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s scheduled pay raise until the department issued permits for new deepwater exploratory wells in the Gulf at a pace of six per month.

Salazar, at the time, said Vitter’s campaign to speed up Gulf drilling amounted to “coercion,” and a Democratic leadership aide even raised the possibility that the Republican senator was violating the federal bribery statute. Salazar later asked Reid to withdraw the measure to increase his salary.

This story was updated at 12:58 p.m.