President Obama will abandon the nomination of Rebecca Wodder as assistant secretary for the Interior Department's park and wildlife programs, ending a tumultuous six-month battle with Senate lawmakers.
Wodder, who was nominated last June to replace Tom Strickland as the assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, was asked to remain with Interior as a senior adviser to Secretary Ken Salazar to oversee conservation issues and the president's Great Outdoors initiative.
Rachel Jacobson will continue to serve as acting assistant secretary until the president picks a new nominee, Interior said. Confirmation will be more difficult in an election year.
"As a result of the prolonged nomination process, Rebecca Wodder has asked the president that she not be re-nominated," Interior spokesman Adam Fetcher said.
The decision comes weeks after the Senate returned the Wodder nomination to the White House (E&E Daily, Dec. 19, 2011).
Wodder, who served as CEO of the conservation group American Rivers, was strongly opposed by several Republicans and at least one Democrat over her past statements on hydraulic fracturing, mountaintop-removal coal mining, Clean Water Act regulations and the removal of dams in the Pacific Northwest.
Her nomination passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on a party-line vote last month, but it was unable to gain unanimous Democratic support in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which shares jurisdiction over her post.
An Obama administration official familiar with the decision blamed Republicans for opposing the nomination on political grounds, not on Wodder's experience.
"The fact that Rebecca Wodder, a highly qualified nominee, could not get confirmed is another reflection of how some Republicans have ground the Congress to a halt," said the official, who asked not to be named. "If the nomination process wasn't so politically supercharged, Rebecca would have been confirmed months ago."
Environmentalists and at least one free-market advocate said they agreed.
"I think if you look at Rebecca's record, it is extraordinary," said Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society, where Wodder worked from 1981 to 1994.
"Of all the environmental leaders I know, she is the least controversial," Meadows said. "She understands the value of rivers to local communities. And it's not just wild and scenic rivers. It's an understanding of how rivers provide ecosystem services -- drinking water, agricultural delivery."
Eli Lehrer, vice president of the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based free-market think tank, said he supported Wodder for her work opposing expensive dams.
"This shows how toxic the environment has become in Washington," he said in an interview. "This is one of president Obama's handful of nominees who conservatives have actually embraced.
"This nominee was blackballed for reasons that have very little to do with the position," he added.
But Republicans -- notably, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma -- said the assistant secretary post offers influence over national policies that could affect oil and gas and other developments on public lands. He promised to place a hold on her nomination if it advanced to the Senate floor.
"They try to say it doesn't directly affect the policy with hydraulic fracturing, and technically that's right," Inhofe said last month. "But the fact that you come in as an activist with an extreme position is just more of the same in the administration, in every little corner of government."
The assistant secretary post oversees policy for the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service.
Other lawmakers promised holds for reasons well outside of Wodder's realm.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) had vowed he would block her confirmation unless Interior issued a blanket extension of all Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leases set to expire at the end of last year.
Interior didn't grant Vitter's request.