Important positions for wilderness held up in Senate

U.S. Capitol building

Dept. of Education

A handful of new nominations to the Department of Interior will continue to build on successes from the first term and finish some unfinished business.

First is the nominee for Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals in the Department of Interior. President Obama has nominated Janice Schneider, a veteran of the department, to fill the position that has been vacant for more than 2 years.

Schneider has a long history with environmental issues, and will oversee several agencies important to protecting our wild places, including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (which regulates things like drilling in the Arctic Ocean) and the Bureau of Land Management.

Speaking of the BLM, President Obama has nominated Neil Kornze to formally head the department (he’s been the interim director since March). Kornze will oversee the more than 245 million acres in the BLM’s jurisdiction, including places that are too wild to drill like Otero Mesa and Adobe Town.

Kornze has also been very involved in bringing more clean, renewable energy to our public lands. The Department of Interior press release on Kornze’s nomination notes that he “played a key role in developing the Western Solar Plan…When built, these projects add up to more than 13,300 megawatts – enough electricity to power 4.6 million homes and support 19,000 construction and operations jobs.”

Kornze has also been involved in implementing the oil and gas leasing reforms that are bringing conservation balance to western lands.

The nominees follow the trend of well-qualified leaders such as Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and her predecessor, former Senator Ken Salazar, put forward by the administration. These experienced professionals will fulfill the mission of the Department of Interior to balance energy development with protection our wild lands. There is one hiccup of course. They have to be confirmed by the gridlocked United States Senate.

According to the Constitution, the Senate’s role is to “advise and consent” on presidential nominations. Historically, this role has been to make sure no unqualified or out of the mainstream nominees get confirmed. As our politics have gotten more polarized, however, this has become more than just “advise and consent” and an excuse to delay and force unnecessary votes. From 1949-2008, only 20 executive branch nominees were filibustered. In the four plus years of the Obama Administration, 16 nominees have been filibustered already, with many more waiting just to get a vote.

As of now, there are several high-profile nominees awaiting confirmation by the Senate, including Rhea Suh, the nominee for Assistant Secretary of Fish Wildlife and Parks, Tommy Beaudreau, nominee for Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, and Michael Connor, nominee to be Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior. 

The Department of Interior deserves to have a full staff in order to best manage our public lands and wild places. These nominees deserve to be heard and have an up or down vote in the Senate. It’s time to stop the obstruction and allow the president to fill his agencies with the best and brightest.