Senate nears vote on interior secretary

Posted: Friday, May 26, 2006

WASHINGTON - A Senate vote on President Bush's nomination of Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to serve as interior secretary could occur as early as today, after Sen. Mary Landrieu dropped her opposition.

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However, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said he would still try to filibuster the nomination when it gets to the Senate floor, to protest a Bush administration plan to open more than 3 million acres of the central Gulf Coast to oil and gas drilling.

"Sen. Nelson promised Florida that he would not support an interior secretary who would advance President Bush's willingness to acquiesce to the oil lobby" by putting oil rigs off the Florida coast, said Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for Nelson.

The Senate is expected to approve Kempthorne as the nation's 49th interior secretary, handing him responsibility for managing a fifth of the nation's land - and for the Bush administration's push to extract more energy resources from it.

Landrieu, D-La., withdrew her "hold" on Kempthorne's nomination late Thursday after meeting with Kempthorne and other officials. A hold is a procedural tactic commonly used to score rhetorical points. Landrieu had protested the Bush administration's refusal to share a portion of offshore oil and gas royalties with Gulf Coast states.

The federal government does not share offshore energy royalties with states, but it does split royalties 50-50 with states for oil and gas development in the Rocky Mountain West.

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