Obama's Interior chief blasts ‘crazy’ Senate holds on nominees

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is ramping up political pressure on Senate Republicans to drop the common practice of using legislative “holds” to block confirmation of top officials.

“I think it is a crazy situation when the work of the people of the United States can’t get done because the Senate won’t confirm highly qualified people who are nominated and have great support,” Salazar said Tuesday.

Salazar spoke to reporters outside an Interior Department forum to solicit input on planned rules to further enhance standards for subsea “blowout preventers," the type of device that failed to halt BP’s runaway Macondo oil well in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

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Interior officials said they plan to propose the rules — which are expected to address design standards, monitoring and other issues — by September.

A number of President Obama’s choices for top Interior Department and Energy Department roles have languished in the Senate, though Salazar emphasized that Interior’s work is chugging along uninterrupted.

E&E Daily reported this month that Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) intends to hold up the confirmation of Marcilynn Burke, who Obama tapped early this year to be Interior’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management.

Republicans have taken aim at past work by Burke, a former law professor, with the litigation committee of the group Defenders of Wildlife. She currently holds the assistant secretary position in an acting capacity.

In January, the White House ended its battle to win confirmation of Rebecca Wodder, who was Obama’s choice to be Interior’s assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks. 

Wodder, who led the group America Rivers from 1994 - 2011, drew GOP criticism over past statements critical of hydraulic fracturing, mountaintop removal coal mining and other energy matters.

And Dan Ashe faced months of delay before confirmation last June as head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is an arm of the Interior Department.

The next battle could be the effort to replace Bob Abbey, who is retiring as head of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management at the end of May.

But Salazar also praised the team in place, including Mike Pool, the Bureau of Land Management deputy director, will fill the top slot on an acting basis once Abbey departs.