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Taking hostages

Published May 2, 2009 6:00 pm

Bennett demands Interior ransom
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It is hard to believe that Sen. Bob Bennett is holding up the nominations of two people to fill positions in the Interior Department because he believes it is good for Utah and the country. More likely his motives are political. But whatever his reasoning, Bennett is wrong. And he's about to lose this showdown.

His coercive hostage-taking, which puts pressure on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to continue the wrongheaded policies of the Bush administration, is wrong. His promotion of oil and gas drilling everywhere in Utah, even on sensitive lands bordering national parks, is wrong.

So, too, is Bennett's desire to prolong the nation's dependence on fossil fuels instead of encouraging development of clean alternative energy that can bring long-term economic benefits to Utah and the West.

Bennett has halted Salazar's nominations of David Hayes as Interior deputy secretary and Hilary Chandler Tompkins as the department's chief legal adviser. Sixty Senate votes are needed to confirm either nominee over Bennett's objection. Bennett is demanding that Salazar reconsider his wise decision to pull 77 parcels of federal land in Utah off a Bureau of Land Management lease sale. Salazar overruled a Bush-era decision by the BLM to allow drilling on those 103,000 acres after U.S. District Court Judge Richardo Urbina agreed with environmental groups that are suing to halt the sale.

Urbino correctly ruled that the environmental impact on the parcels near Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dinosaur National Monument had not been adequately evaluated.

But don't confuse Bennett with the facts about these leases and the baseless grounds for his poor-loser obstructionism. Salazar rightly refuses to do Bennett's bidding. Indeed, he cannot begin to review the 77 parcels simply because, thanks to Bennett, he has no deputy secretary to do it and no solicitor to address the legal challenges.

It is clear to us that Bennett, who is seen by many right-wing Utah Republicans as "liberal," is trying to convince them otherwise ahead of a tough primary challenge next year from Republican Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and perhaps others.

Bennett's transparent ploy plays well with oil and gas interests and with rural voters, but he is running against the tide of concern about climate change and the damaging effects of unregulated drilling and its impact on land, wildlife, water and recreation.

Give it up, senator. This cynical grandstanding is beneath you.