Senate committee approves Rhea Suh nomination

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the nomination of Rhea Suh Thursday to oversee fish, wildlife and parks programs at the Department of the Interior, despite Republican protests that she is antagonistic toward natural gas.

At a brief meeting, Chairwoman Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) sought to reassure her colleagues of Suh’s qualifications for the position.

“This position is charged not with overseeing energy production, but with overseeing fish, wildlife and parks,” Landrieu said. “Ms. Suh repeatedly reiterated her support for natural gas production before this committee. She stated unequivocally that she would absolutely support responsible development of natural gas and other fossil fuels from our public lands.”

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The committee voted 12-10, along party lines, to send Suh’s nomination to the full Senate.

Suh is currently in charge of Interior’s policy, management and budget. Her nomination hearing was in February, but the committee did not have the quorum to vote at that time because of bad weather.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), the panel’s top Republican, was displeased with Suh’s performance at that hearing.

“Throughout the process, she provided inadequate responses to questions from myself and other members of the committee,” Murkowski said before the Thursday vote. “In my view, madam chairman, she has not demonstrated that she is the right choice to oversee and provide the needed direction to the National Park Service and to Fish and Wildlife.”

Republicans opposed Suh’s nomination mainly due to her history opposing natural gas development and use. Before coming to Interior, Suh worked for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, where she oversaw grants to environmental groups to oppose natural gas production.

“If confirmed, she would be able to block natural gas production on public lands and private property,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “In light of Ms. Suh’s past statements and actions, I expect her to do exactly that.”

Louisiana Republicans sought to appeal to Landrieu’s support for the natural gas industry and urge her to oppose Suh’s nomination. Instead, Landrieu said Thursday that Suh’s work at Interior “recognizes the importance of natural gas to the country’s energy needs.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said Suh’s work reforming Interior after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in faster approval times drilling permits, resulting in an increase in oil and gas production on federal lands.

“So, hardly a case of somebody who took a role and responsibility and did something other than oil and gas production,” Cantwell said. 

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