Sally Jewell approved by Energy Committee

Sally Jewell

President Barack Obama and Sally Jewell applaud outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar after President Obama announced Jewell as his nominee to replace Salazar, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 6, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Senator Murkowski has threatened to filibuster the nomination over the Interior Department’s decision to prevent construction of a road from King Cove to Cold Bay. The proposed road would cut through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

Secretary Salazar agreed Wednesday night to reevaluate the decision. That was enough to appease Senator Murkowski to allow the committee vote.

Under the agreement, the next Interior Secretary will visit Cold Bay and meet with local leaders.

“Sally Jewell will have the undeniable privilege of going to King Cove, and I’m going to be with her. We’ll figure when the best time to get in and out safely. It may be that we have to fly into Cold Bay and walk,” Senator Murkowski said Thursday morning.

Residents of Cold Bay have lobbied for the connector road, arguing that traveling to King Cove by sea and air is often unsafe.

A final decision on the road could be months or years away. Interior will reassess the environmental review and include what Senator Murkowski calls the “human component” of the construction project.

The agreement was announced as the hearing began. Not long after, the panel voted 18 to three to move her nomination onto the full Senate.

The three no votes came from Republicans, including Wyoming’s John Barrasso. He said he remains concerned over Ms. Jewell’s work on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association.

“I’ve asked her whether she disagrees with NPCA’s positions. She testified that as vice-chairman she was unaware of the organization’s various positions and thus unable to say which decisions she agrees with. That concerns me,” Senator Barrasso said.

Senator Barrasso told the committee NPCA has sued the government to halt some energy projects on public land.

Senator Murkowski said she’ll take Ms. Jewell “at her word” – that Ms. Jewell will bring people of all stripes together, from the Interior Department and outside, to hash out areas of disagreement.

“She says specifically that she is a convener. I need her to be a convener. We need her to be a convener,” she said.

Senator Murkowski remains uncommitted to voting yes or no on Ms. Jewell’s final roll call vote. She wants firm answers to specific questions.

“I asked a very direct question on whether she’d support putting ANWR into wilderness. And I got the “I believe in balance” type of thing,” she said after the vote.

Seven Republicans voted in favor of moving the nomination onto the full Senate, including Idaho Senator Jim Risch.

Risch noted the quirkiness of the Cabinet confirmation process; every state has its own King Cove, in Idaho, it’s the endangered sage grouse.

A major perk of being Senator is the ability to threaten to filibuster a cabinet pick for a home-state gimme.

“It’s really unfortunate that it takes a nomination like this, and this type of a process in order to get urgency out of a federal agency,” Risch lamented.

Risch pointed out even though he voted to move Ms. Jewell onto the full Senate, he can, and may yet, put a hold on the nominee.

The Senate takes off the next two weeks for recess. It’s expected to debate Ms. Jewell’s confirmation in April.

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