Senior Interior Department energy official to retire

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Abbey’s departure may bring a bruising political fight to win Senate confirmation of his replacement at a time when Republicans are launching frequent attacks on administration energy policies.

Mike Pool, who is BLM’s deputy director, will fill the top slot on an acting basis once Abbey departs May 31. 

Abbey, a Mississippi native, will rejoin his family in the Magnolia State. In addition to directing BLM, he has previously served as the bureau’s Nevada state director, among many other roles.

"Serving as the BLM Director and having the opportunity to work with the most dedicated public servants in all of government has been the highlight of my career,” Abbey said in a statement.

“It has been a privilege to work for President Obama and with Secretary Salazar and his team at the Department of the Interior on natural resource and energy issues of national importance. I will always be grateful to the Secretary for the opportunity he gave me and for his unwavering support,” he said.

The bureau oversees 264 million acres of public land, mostly in the west, a task that puts officials in the crossfire of longstanding disputes over energy, wilderness protection, grazing and many other issues.

The BLM has been a flashpoint for GOP lawmakers and oil-and-gas industry officials who allege some policies – including a new proposal to toughen oversight of natural gas drilling – are too restrictive. 

Interior’s conservation agenda has also been controversial.

Interior officials say they've been strongly supportive of oil-and-gas development while seeking to improve safeguards. They have highlighted programs to spur production of fossil fuels, including the recent approval of as many as several thousand new natural gas wells in Utah.

The department has also worked to substantially expand green power development on public lands. Abbey oversaw the approval of 29 large-scale renewable power projects, including 16 solar projects, according to Interior.