INTERIOR

McCain blasts deputy secretary nominee over lobbying, Reagan legacy

Had John McCain won the presidential election last year, it's a safe bet he wouldn't have nominated David Hayes to be the No. 2 man at the Interior Department.

The Arizona Republican senator criticized Hayes at his confirmation hearing yesterday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee over his work as a lobbyist and comments he made about former President Ronald Reagan. McCain said he will be "considering seriously" whether or not he will vote to confirm Hayes, who was Interior's deputy secretary from 1999 to 2001.

From 2001 to 2006, however, Hayes worked as a lobbyist for at least four different entities, and McCain asked how that coincides with Obama's campaign pledge not to have lobbyists in his administration.

Hayes noted that Obama vowed not to hire anyone who had lobbied in the last two years, which he has not. He also told the committee under oath that he did not lobby any Interior officials within one year of leaving the department in 2001.

Hayes' name was floated as a candidate for Interior secretary after Obama won. The option was met with resistance from some environmental groups, which noted that he has worked as a lobbyist for several groups, including Sempra Energy and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co., and that as a lawyer he represented the Chemical Manufacturers Association and Ford Motor Co.

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McCain also cited an article Hayes wrote in 2006 for the Progressive Policy Institute criticizing the conservative view of natural resources in the West as something to be exploited, and the resulting image of a stereotypical Western man who sees a right to log, mine and drill with no restrictions. "Like Ronald Reagan before him, President Bush has embraced the Western stereotype to the point of adopting some of its affectations, the boots, brush-clearing and get-the-government-off-our-backs bravado," McCain quoted Hayes as writing.

McCain did not defend Bush, but said Hayes should not have mentioned Reagan, who did "a lot" for the environment, calling the remark "highly offensive."

Hayes said he regrets that the prose was "overly florid" and agreed that he should not have mentioned Reagan. But he added that he felt at the time that the Bush administration was not as balanced as it should be in its natural resources policy.

Hayes also said that the body of his written work as a whole shows that he is a believer in collaboration.

Ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the committee had received an allegation that Hayes had violated regulations by lobbying his former department within a year of leaving office in 2001. But an extensive review by the Democratic and Republican committee staff and by the Interior inspector general found the allegation of misconduct was not substantiated, Murkowski said.

No ESA regulation of carbon

Murkowski quizzed Hayes about the listing of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act and whether the Obama administration will use the act to control the greenhouse gas emissions that threaten the bears and other protected species.

While Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said the matter is under review, Hayes said he agreed with Murkowski that the ESA is not well suited to deal with climate change.

Murkowski also used the hearing to rail against Obama's energy policies, saying the administration's 2010 budget blueprint is "a war on domestic production." She said punishing the oil and gas industry will not bring the age of renewable energy any faster.

In reply, Hayes said Salazar is open to increasing drilling in some offshore areas and committed "with vigor" to responsible oil and gas production. He said many contentious development issues can be resolved by reaching consensus and using tools such as land exchanges, habitat conservation plans and others.

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) went on a self-described "rant" over the Obama administration deciding "by fiat" to pull back 77 leases that had been auctioned in Utah just before Bush left office. He said the process had taken years and had full environmental review, and that the Obama administration is sending a message that it "doesn't really care" about the law. Bennett also said the Interior action does not square with Hayes' pledge to work for consensus and balance.

Hayes said Salazar did not take the Utah leases off the table forever, but rather wanted to review them before deciding how to proceed. On that issue, and on others ranging from abandoned mine land funding to the Fish and Wildlife decision to delist gray wolves in Rocky Mountain states except Wyoming, Hayes promised to work with senators. "I regret we're off on this foot with you," he told Bennett.

Hayes said his top priorities will be renewable energy on public lands, climate change and its impacts on landscapes, continued investment in land management and working with the Native American community.

He was confirmed by a unanimous Senate vote to serve as second-in-command at Interior under former Secretary Bruce Babbitt from 1999 to 2001.

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