Floor Speech: Murkowski on David Hayes Nomination

*** As Prepared for Delivery ***

"Mr. President, I appreciate the opportunity to follow my colleague from Utah, as he has so clearly laid out the grounds upon which he has placed a hold on the Department of the Interior nominee, David Hayes. I wish to make a comment at the outset: I don't think that either the Senator from Utah, and certainly not myself, in also placing a hold--this is not a situation where there is disagreement about Mr. Hayes' qualifications. This is not a personal matter or anybody out to get Mr. Hayes, if you will. This is about what is happening within the Department, as my colleague from Utah has mentioned, about the credibility within the Department of the Interior at this moment in time. The actions taken by Senator Bennett in placing a hold and subsequently my actions in also placing a hold on Mr. Hayes and his nomination are strictly in keeping with the practice of being able to ask a potential nominee--whether it is within the Department of the Interior or any other position within the administration--questions and expecting to receive a response from that individual.

"So I, too, rise to oppose the cloture motion for the nomination of David Hayes to be the Deputy Interior Secretary. From my perspective, this vote is over a very simple issue and it can be distilled quite easily and that is: Will this administration answer legitimate questions from Republican Senators? Before I give the background of my situation, I also wish to say I do regret being on the floor at this moment and having to make this statement. I believe this whole process we have gone through has been unnecessary, and at any point leading up to this, the Department of the Interior could very easily have cleared the way for this nominee without having to force a cloture vote. I will explain why.

"It was 2 weeks ago that I added my name to the procedural hold placed by the junior Senator from Utah on this nominee, and I did so very reluctantly. I did not do it to be obstructive, to be an obstructionist in any way but, rather, to constructively obtain an understanding of the actions by the Department of the Interior that seemed to be, at least in my opinion, dramatically at odds with statements made by Secretary Salazar and President Obama regarding domestic energy production. I will make a statement for the record that neither I nor Senator Bennett have asked the Department of the Interior to adopt or to repeal any specific rule or policy or take or repeal any specific administrative action.

"The Senator from Utah has laid out, very clearly, his concerns, and I will only summarize for those who are listening to what we are talking about that the Interior Department, very shortly after the beginning of this administration, canceled the 77 oil and gas leases in Utah and gave factually incorrect justifications for its actions. All the Senator from Utah is asking for is a review of this very same issue.

"Following the decision on the Utah leases, the administration announced a 180-day delay of the 5-year Outer Continental Shelf leasing plan. There was also a delay of the scheduled round of oil shale research, demonstration, and development leases. There was also a finding for justification of listing the yellow-billed loon, whose range extends through major oil and gas regions in my State in Alaska. There was also the determination that the Bush administration's mountaintop coal mining rule is considered legally defective. Finally, there was the unilateral reversal of the previous administration's Endangered Species Act consultation rules, and this was done without public hearing and without public comment.

"It was this last issue--this issue that relates to the Endangered Species Act--that, in my opinion, was the straw that broke the camel's back. When the Bush administration listed the polar bear as a threatened species due to loss of sea ice, the world changed insofar as there had to be clear guidelines for keeping normal activities out of the purview of a huge and impossible regulatory scheme. We have cautioned against an overbroad interpretation of the polar bear rule, and Interior, to their credit, has taken the correct path on some of the most important rulemakings. I truly do appreciate that, and I have had an opportunity to convey my appreciation to Secretary Salazar. We are thankful for that. However, my larger concern remains that consultations could still be required for a host of energy projects, and in any event, that the Endangered Species Act's citizen suit provisions are still going to give rise to a multitude of lawsuits on when and where consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service is mandated.

"All this combined--all these various actions within the Department of the Interior within a very short time period--caused great concern about the direction of our Nation's energy policy.

"I have been very pleased about some of the comments I have heard from the President and from Secretary Salazar. They, themselves, have very clearly stated we do need oil and gas, and we should be producing more of it domestically. But what has been happening is the statements that have been made and the rulemaking and the policy directives have been at odds with one another. I will give a couple quotes from both the Secretary and the President.

"Secretary Salazar has said: There is no--he was talking about renewable energies, but he goes on to state: 'There is no question that the Nation will need to continue to produce oil and gas as a bridge to this energy future.' I absolutely agree with the Secretary. The President a couple of weeks ago said: 'As I've often said, in the short term, as we transition to renewable energy, we can and should increase our domestic production of oil and natural gas. We're not going to transform our economy overnight. We still need more oil, we still need more gas. If we've got some here in the United States that we can use, we should find it and do so in an environmentally sustainable way...'

"That is the end of the President's quote. I couldn't agree with him more.

"But there is an inconsistency, as I have said, in the statements that have been coming from the administration and the actions as evidenced through the rulemaking or the policy directives.

"I still have questions about whether this administration does indeed want to include increased domestic conventional energy production as one of the legs of our comprehensive energy policy or if the administration is going to say one thing and do another. If this President and his Interior Department want to scale back production, that is their prerogative, and we can certainly talk about that, but that is something I need to know, both as the ranking member on the Energy Committee and as a Senator coming from the State that has the greatest onshore and offshore oil and gas prospects left in North America. This is important that we know and understand where this administration is coming from.

"I sent a letter to the Secretary when I placed a hold on Mr. Hayes, and I outlined my concerns. All my questions in that letter focused on how Interior will implement the policies it has announced and how it will defend against things such as the third-party lawsuits to which we believe they have made themselves pretty vulnerable. The White House and the Interior Department have communicated with me and my staff since I wrote that letter. Initially, we were told DOI doesn't want to answer the questions because they are too hard, there are too many of them, and they are too mean. Since that time, my staff has received a draft of a letter. I received it last night about 7 o'clock. I appreciated their response, but in many ways it avoids many of the specific questions. I think there is an opportunity for us to go through my series of questions, have that discussion in a meaningful way, and get the clarity I am seeking which, as a Senator, I believe I am entitled to.

"I will ask: If we can presume the Interior Department has been making its decisions and policies based on rational and well-thought-out facts and science, how hard can it be to question the decisions and the policies behind it?

"Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to submit for the Record the letter I sent to Secretary Salazar. I think my colleagues will see there are indeed some very hard questions contained in my letter, but at this level of Government, I would suggest there aren't very many easy questions left.

"As I indicated in my initial comments, I am not trying to be an obstructionist. In response to DOI's complaints, I have offered to sit down with them, in good faith, and go through the questions one by one. The standard I would use would be if any Member of this body were to be Secretary of Interior, which of the questions would they have insisted that their staff extensively analyze prior to taking the actions the Department has taken? I do believe my questions will be answered, but it is clear that in the short term, these questions are being answered because of this cloture motion. That troubles me because I believe the Senate, in its role to advise and consent on Presidential nominees, is entitled to answers from the administration about what its policy is as we move forward.

"It should not matter whether these questions come from Republicans or Democrats. It is reasonable to expect that any one of us in this body can get honest answers about how this administration is going to pursue and implement an energy policy.

"I hoped we would have an opportunity to sit down and go over the questions, but, instead, this morning we are going to see a vote on the floor.

"My hold on David Hayes didn't come attached with demands to change a rule, make a rule, or approve a plan or policy. I just want some answers as to what the administration's policies are going to be. My commitment is to get those answers.

"Regardless of what happens with this vote today, I am certainly going to pursue actively the development of all forms of energy in this country because we are going to need all of them in high volumes. I do look forward to working in good faith with the Interior Department, whatever its makeup, because we have a lot of work to do. We know that. We need to commit to that level of activity.

"With that, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum."

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