The Senate yesterday unanimously approved three top-level Energy Department nominees and one Interior Department nominee.
The confirmed Energy Department nominees are Kristina Johnson, undersecretary of energy; Steven Koonin, undersecretary of science; and Scott Harris, general counsel. Larry EchoHawk was confirmed to be Interior's assistant secretary for Indian Affairs.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) had placed a procedural "hold" on four DOE nominees, including Johnson, Koonin and Harris, over a public lands and mining bill he supports. Kyl said yesterday that he would lift the holds after working out an agreement with Democrats that he would get a hearing on S. 409, which would facilitate a new copper mine near Superior, Ariz.
Under the bill, the federal government would transfer about 2,400 acres of the Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of mining giant Rio Tinto. In exchange, the government would get about 5,500 acres along the San Pedro River, a valuable migratory bird corridor and riparian and wetland habitat for at-risk species, according to Kyl's office.
Ines Triay, nominated to be DOE's assistant secretary of environmental management, was the fourth candidate Kyl had placed a hold on, but her nomination was not considered yesterday. Reid's office would not comment on Triay's confirmation delay. "We are still working to get an agreement for consideration of the nomination and hope to do so soon," a spokeswoman said.
Triay would be in charge of a much-criticized DOE agency responsible for cleaning up Cold War and World War II legacy waste. The large toxic cleanup projects in Washington, South Carolina, Tennessee and Idaho have experienced cost overruns, delays and management issues that have been the subject of multiple Government Accountability Office reports and congressional hearings.
The office also is chronically underfunded, exacerbating the cleanup problems. The Environmental Management Office will receive $6 billion during the next two years to reduce the legacy footprint of the environmental management program and complete the cleanup of near-term projects, Triay told a Senate panel in April.
Johnson, an electrical engineer, is Johns Hopkins University's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs and previously was dean of Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering.
Koonin, an award-winning physicist and BP chief scientist, helped Energy Secretary Steven Chu form a major biosciences energy research partnership when Chu headed the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Before joining BP, Koonin spent almost three decades at the California Institute of Technology as a professor of theoretical physics, including nine years as provost.
Harris is a managing partner with Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that specializes in telecommunications, trade and other areas. From 1994 to 1996, he was chief of the International Bureau at the Federal Communications Commission, and before that, he was chief counsel for export administration at the Commerce Department.
EchoHawk is a former U.S. Marine and was elected attorney general of Idaho in 1990, a position he held for four years. He is currently a professor at Brigham Young University's J. Reuben Clark Law School, where he teaches courses in criminal law, criminal procedure and federal American Indian law.