Jewell’s Interior Nomination Clears Senate Energy Panel 19-3

Interior secretary nominee Sally Jewell was backed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today in a bipartisan 19-3 vote that sends her nomination to the full Senate for confirmation.

Jewell won support of the panel’s top Republican, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, after the Interior Department agreed to revisit a decision about whether to allow construction of a road across a wildlife refuge in rural Alaska.

Even as they backed her nomination, Murkowski and other lawmakers said they needed pledges from Jewell about how she would handle the conflicting demands over federal land use, and questioned her ties to environmental groups that had opposed oil and coal use near national parks or on government lands.

“I am going to go back on some of these questions and try to get more clarity,” Murkowski told reporters after the vote today. The Senate hasn’t scheduled a confirmation vote.

Jewell, 57, will replace Ken Salazar if confirmed by the Senate. Jewell, a former petroleum engineer and commercial banker, is the chief executive officer of Recreational Equipment Inc.

As head of the company, Jewell, an accomplished mountain climber, expert skier and longtime bicycle commuter, helped lead groups such as the National Parks Conservation Association that pushed the government to curb fossil-fuel mining in or near public lands. Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, cited that tie for opposing Jewell today.

Road Review

After late-night negotiations yesterday among Murkowski, panel chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon and Salazar, Interior agreed to take another look at the proposal to build a 10-mile road across the wildlife refuge near King Cove, Alaska. Murkowski said that road is necessary to allow residents there to get to an airport in an emergency.

“I believe that additional steps and dialogue are appropriate before a final decision is made,” Salazar said in a statement today. Murkowski said in a statement that Jewell would be making the trip to King Cove with her, which assumes that she will be confirmed by the full Senate.

Jewell also faces hurdles tied to more parochial issues.

Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said this week that he’ll delay a Senate vote on Jewell’s nomination until he gets assurances that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will ease restrictions on oil-and-gas development in eastern Oklahoma tied to the presence of an endangered species, the American Burying Beetle.

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