Ken Salazar blocks Bush BLM nominee |

Ken Salazar blocks Bush BLM nominee

Associated Press Writer
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

WASHINGTON ” Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., says he will block the confirmation of President Bush’s nominee to head the Bureau of Land Management until the administration gives Colorado more time to review a plan that allows gas drilling on the Roan Plateau.

“They will not get a BLM director until we come to some resolution on this issue,” a frustrated Salazar told reporters in a conference call Thursday. “I will not allow the Western Slope to become a sacrificial zone for the rest of the nation.”

Bush last month nominated James Caswell, a veteran public land official from Idaho, to head the Interior Department agency, which manages one-eighth of the land in the nation.

Caswell’s nomination must be confirmed by the Senate, and it can be held up by one senator with objections.

Salazar’s move is the latest attempt by Colorado Democrats to hinder a plan approved earlier this month that authorized up to 1,570 new natural gas wells on the Roan. The western Colorado landmark is rich in gas and oil shale reserves and beloved for its pockets of pristine backcountry and abundant wildlife.

A second plan for areas with critical environmental concerns ” about 30 percent of the federal land ” is expected after a comment period, which ends in mid-August.

Salazar spoke a day after Colorado Democratic Reps. John Salazar ” the senator’s brother ” and Mark Udall failed in a bid to amend an Interior Department spending bill to prevent new oil and gas leases on the plateau.

The senator criticized the BLM and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for denying a request from Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter for 120 days to examine the BLM’s drilling plan.

Salazar said he is not opposed to all oil and gas development.

“I have consistently said some places in the world are too special to drill,” he said. “The top of the Roan Plateau is a very special place. The governor’s request for 120 days for additional review is something that should be granted.”

Ritter, a Democrat who took office in January, had told the BLM that his administration needed time to do its own review. But the acting BLM director, Jim Hughes, declined, saying the state had had ample time to contribute in the seven years BLM worked on the plan.

Salazar’s “hold” on Caswell’s nomination is an effort to force BLM to negotiate.

“I want to make sure the BLM will have thoughtful relationship with the people of the state,” Salazar said.

BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington said Colorado officials still have time to comment on the second plan dealing with special environmental areas.

Interior Department spokesman Shane Wolfe said Kempthorne, a former Idaho senator, is “always willing to listen to the concerns of members of Congress.” Wolfe added that Salazar and Kempthorne are scheduled to have lunch soon and that they can discuss the matter then.

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