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May 4, 2006

Kempthorne Hearings Open in Senate

Groups question Interior Department's commitment to protecting public lands

Contacts

Cat Lazaroff / Sarah Wilhoite, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500
Melissa Waage, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 736-5760
Cindy Hoffman, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 682-9400
Tiernan Sittenfeld, League of Conservation Voters, (202) 454-4582
Dave Willet, Sierra Club, (202) 675-6698
Justin Tatham, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, (202) 546-9707

Washington DC

Ten environmental and public interest groups have sent a letter to the leaders of the committee overseeing today's hearings on the nomination of Governor Dirk Kempthorne to be Secretary of the Interior. The groups are urging the committee to closely question Gov. Kempthorne on how he plans to restore greater balance to the Department of the Interior in fulfilling its mission to conserve the nation's wildlife and natural resources.


The Secretary of the Interior oversees the management of more than 500 million acres of publicly owned lands, including national parks, monuments, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, rangelands, and coastal areas. The Secretary is also responsible for fish and wildlife conservation and the conservation of the nation's water and mineral resources.


"In recent years, the Department of the Interior has served more as a vehicle for the commercial exploitation of the public's resources than for preserving and protecting them," the letter states. "The Bush administration and Department leadership has consistently undermined the preservation and protection of our public lands, water, and wildlife to cater to the desires of the oil, mining, and timber industries. The Department has also been pushing for development of national treasures that Americans want protected, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."


The letter, which was delivered to Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the committee's ranking member, expresses concerns that industry insiders working for the Interior Department under the Bush administration have consistently favored industry uses of public lands over recreational and other land uses.


"In our view, the Interior Secretary's proper role is to steward our nation's resources, not advocate for the oil, mining, timber, and other extractive industries," the letter states. "Having reviewed Mr. Kempthorne's record as Idaho's Governor and as a former Senator, we are concerned that he may continue to promote the unbalanced approach we have seen at the Department under the Bush administration to date."


As a U.S. Senator, the letter notes, Kempthorne twice voted for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, supported off-shore oil drilling in protected areas, and voted to sell off public lands. As governor, Mr. Kempthorne has supported mining for gravel in the middle of a state park along the Boise River, and has also been leading the charge against the 2001 Roadless Rule, a national policy which protected nine million acres of wild forests in Idaho from new road construction and industrial logging.


"In the last five years, the Secretary of the Interior has been given free reign to disregard the interests of the American people in the management of lands and resources it is charged to steward," the letter concludes. "We urge you to vigorously examine Mr. Kempthorne's extensive public record … to determine whether he would be able to restore balance to the Department of the Interior for the management of our nation's natural resources."


Read the letter 

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