Rules change expediting confirmation process for several Interior, Energy picks

Senate committees this week plan to hold hearings and votes on several Interior and Energy department nominees, teeing up their potential confirmation in the new year.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee tomorrow will hold a hearing on nominees to fill two of Interior's top energy and land management posts. Janice Schneider was nominated as assistant secretary for land and minerals management, and Neil Kornze was nominated as director of the Bureau of Land Management.

The committee will also consider two top DOE nominees: Ellen Williams to be director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and Marc Kastner to be director of the Office of Science.

ENR tomorrow will also vote on President Obama's pick to head the Energy Department's fossil fuel research efforts, Christopher Smith, plus Steven Croley, nominee to become DOE general counsel, and Esther Kia'aina, nominee for Interior assistant secretary for insular areas.

Also tomorrow, the Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on Rhea Suh, the president's nominee for Interior assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks.


Other nominees at that hearing include Victoria Baecher Wassmer for chief financial officer and Thomas Burke for assistant administrator for research and development, both of U.S. EPA, and Roy Williams for Commerce's assistant secretary for economic development.

Much of the spotlight will be cast on Schneider and Kornze, who, if confirmed, would oversee oil and gas and renewable energy development on more than 250 million acres in the West and the nation's oceans.

Kornze is well-known on Capitol Hill. He's been the de facto director of BLM since March and formerly served for several years as a public lands aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Schneider, whose post oversees BLM as well as Interior's mining and offshore energy bureaus, is a relative unknown. She worked as an attorney for Interior during the Clinton administration and served a short stint as counselor to former Deputy Secretary David Hayes. Schneider is an environmental attorney at Latham & Watkins LLP in Washington, D.C., heading the firm's Energy and Infrastructure Project Siting and Defense Practice.

The nominees can expect to be grilled on a wide range of natural resource issues, both national and parochial.

Both will likely face questions on BLM's draft hydraulic fracturing rule and the role of public lands in the nation's domestic energy portfolio.

Schneider may be asked her thoughts on oil and gas leasing on the outer continental shelf. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is currently considering whether to lease Arctic waters beginning in 2015 and whether to open the Atlantic Ocean in its next five-year leasing plan.

Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) may ask for Kornze's thoughts on legislation the Oregonian introduced to accelerate logging on BLM's O&C forests in western Oregon. He may ask both nominees how BLM can implement its fracking regulations with appropriate deference to states.

Ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) may ask both nominees about their thoughts on oil and gas development in the 22.5-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve in northwest Alaska and how they plan to use new funding to clean up abandoned wells.

Murkowski may also ask for an update on BOEM's leasing decisions for the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, as well as pending drilling regulations for Arctic drilling.

Kornze will likely get tough questioning from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who has previously suggested that BLM directors should be career resource management professionals, rather than political aides.

Kornze has been closely involved in the development of BLM's Southwest solar plan and landscape-scale mitigation, its draft hydraulic fracturing rule and its transition to electronic oil and gas permitting, among other issues.

DOE nominees Williams and Kastner

Williams is currently chief scientist for oil and gas company BP, offering a different perspective from previous managers at the Energy Department's game-changing technology agency. She is currently taking a leave of absence from the University of Maryland's Department of Physics, where she has been since 1991.

While at BP, she established the company's Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, which explores the impacts of oil spills and dispersants on local ecosystems, as well as developing improved spill mitigation, oil and gas detection and other technologies. She also set up BP's Energy Sustainability Challenge, a consortium of universities examining the impact of limited resources on patterns of energy supply and consumption and the necessary technological advances to meet these challenges.

Members of the committee will likely ask how Williams will manage to ensure the 4-year-old agency's work has impact with a diminishing budget and how to measure success. The recent budget proposal may offer the agency some hope, however, compared to the House's fiscal 2013 budget, which slashed by about two-thirds its already reduced budget of about $260 million under sequestration. Members of both sides of the aisle have held up ARPA-E as a model federal energy program and expressed support for its continuation.

Williams' entry into DOE, if confirmed, would likely be smooth, as she and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz have worked together in the past. Williams is a member of the External Advisory Board for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Energy Initiative, of which Moniz was director before coming to Washington (Greenwire, Dec. 11).

The committee will also vet another one of Moniz's MIT colleagues at the hearing. Kastner, dean of MIT's School of Science, would head up DOE's office supporting fundamental scientific research for energy and basic research in the physical sciences, if the Senate confirms his nomination.

At MIT, Kastner focuses on working with students on studying the motion of electrons in nanometer-size semiconductor structures, in which the motion of electrons is highly correlated, according to the MIT website.

Members may question how Kastner can improve the national labs' relationship with DOE and the private sector, as well as how to maintain U.S. competitiveness in science and research.

EPW considers Suh

It was tough sledding for Suh during her confirmation hearing last week at the ENR Committee, which shares jurisdiction over the fish and wildlife and parks post with the EPW panel (Greenwire, Dec. 12).

If confirmed, Suh would oversee policy at the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, tackling tough challenges over how to rein in both agencies' growing maintenance backlogs and how to balance energy development with the protection of endangered species and protected birds.

Suh is currently Interior's assistant secretary for policy, management and budget and previously worked nearly a decade as an environmental program officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a conservation philanthropic organization. In a previous job as senior legislative assistant to then-Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), she worked on legislation to protect Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Barrasso criticized Suh's conservation work last week, pointing to her past statements on natural gas and her "lifetime funding of activist groups."

Suh in a 2007 interview posted by Hewlett said the pace and magnitude of natural gas development is the "single greatest threat to the ecological integrity of the West." She assured ENR members that she is committed to Obama's "all of the above" energy platform, which has included a heavy emphasis on gas.

Suh said her previous roles did not focus on stopping resource development but rather on enabling "a broader suite of voices to be heard in the conservation movement."

Suh would not have direct oversight of energy development, but Fish and Wildlife is consulted each time a project could affect threatened or endangered species. In addition, the agency is taking a more aggressive role urging wind power developers to obtain permits and compensate for the unintentional take of eagles.

EPW Committee ranking member David Vitter (R-La.) will almost certainly grill Suh about Fish and Wildlife's newly finalized 30-year take permits for wind and other facilities. He's a leading critic of wind energy and has blasted the Obama administrration's eagle policy.

Vitter will also likely voice his concerns over Fish and Wildlife's 2011 settlements with environmental groups to streamline implementation of the Endangered Species Act.

The settlements were designed to allow the agency to focus on the species of most concern -- while offering relief from what was a deluge of lawsuits -- but Vitter and other Republicans and industry critics say it epitomized an alleged Obama administration penchant for "sue and settle," whereby environmentalists use courts to force policy changes, with the administration's tacit approval.

Delayed votes

The ENR Committee will also hold votes it postponed from last week on Smith, Croley and Kia'aina.

Smith is the highest-profile pick of the three, especially because DOE's Office of Fossil Energy is involved in the debate over the Obama administration's plans to address climate change.

While Smith has worked to be cautious, expressing support for clean coal research while also touting the need for reducing carbon emissions, he recently said carbon capture technologies were ripe enough for U.S. EPA to mandate them for new coal power plants (E&E Daily, Dec. 4).

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) complained about that during a hearing last week, "The Department of Energy, you all have been the ones who have recommended to EPA what new technologies were feasible and doable and had come to fruition."

Manchin added, "I've always said, if it's unobtainable, it's unreasonable to put those benchmarks when we haven't been proven to meet them."

Croley, currently deputy White House counsel, who has been a key adviser on gun policy, has faced questions on the legality of DOE uranium stockpile releases and the Bonneville Power Administration's autonomy.

Schedule: The business meeting for votes on Smith, Croley and Kia'aina is tomorrow, Dec. 17, at 10 a.m. in 366 Dirksen.

Schedule: The hearing on the nominations of Kornze, Schneider, Kastner and Williams is tomorrow, Dec. 17, at 10 a.m. in 366 Dirksen.

Witnesses: Kornze, Schneider, Kastner and Williams.

Schedule: The hearing on the nominations of Suh, Wassmer, Williams and Burke is tomorrow, Dec. 17, at 2:30 p.m. in 406 Dirksen.

Witnesses: Suh, Wassmer, Williams and Burke.

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