President Bush chose Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne Thursday to replace Gale Norton as Interior secretary, saying his nominee had a "long and abiding love for nature." Some environmentalists said they were concerned.
WASHINGTON President Bush chose Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne Thursday to replace Gale Norton as Interior secretary, saying his nominee had a "long and abiding love for nature."
If confirmed by the Senate, Kempthorne would become the 49th Interior secretary, whose job is to oversee federal lands.
"As secretary of the Interior, Dirk will continue my administration's efforts to conserve our land, water and air resources, reduce the maintenance backlog of our national parks, support historic and cultural sites through our 'Preserve America' initiative, and develop the energy potential of federal lands and waters in environmentally sensitive ways," Bush said.
Norton, the first woman to head the 156-year-old department and one of the original members of Bush's Cabinet, resigned last week after a tenure in which she often clashed with environmentalists.
An unfinished item on Norton's agenda was the effort to convince Congress to allow drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, still a priority for Bush.
Kempthorne, first elected Idaho governor in 1998, pledged to reach out and build consensus if confirmed to the post.
"One of the hallmarks of my public service is my ability to bring people to the table and to work together to build consensus," he said, standing at Bush's side in the Oval Office. "I pledge to you and to the American people that I will continue in that role of reaching out and finding solutions."
Kempthorne is also a former senator and one-time mayor of his state's capital, Boise. He had announced already that he was not seeking re-election as governor.
"Dirk understands that those who live closest to the land know how to manage it best, and he will work closely with state and local leaders to ensure wise stewardship of our resources," Bush said.
Some environmentalists said they were concerned about Kempthorne on environmental issues.
Bruce Hamilton, national conservation director at the Sierra Club environmental group in San Francisco, was highly critical of Norton and said he did not think Kempthorne would be any friendlier to environmentalists' causes.
"Although he is known as a very nice, personable, non-combative person, he has an abysmal record on the environment," Hamilton said.
The Interior Department manages national parks, wildlife refuges and other federal lands, which account for 1 out of every 5 acres in the United States.
"I consider it a great honor and accept your charge to be a responsible steward of the land and the natural resources with which our nation has been blessed," Kempthorne said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist welcomed Kempthorne's nomination.
"Dirk is a strong nominee for Interior Secretary. He's an outspoken advocate for America's parks and has a wealth of public service experience at both the state and federal levels. I look forward to his swift confirmation by the Senate," the Tennessee Republican said in a statement.
Republicans are trying to push the plan to allow drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge through the Senate by attaching it to a budget now under debate. But that idea is controversial among Democrats and many moderate Republicans and faces its stiffest resistance in the House.
Kempthorne bonded with Bush when he played host to the president at his state's exclusive Tamarack Resort.