Nomination of Dirk Kempthorne, of Idaho, to be Secretary of the Interior
GOVERNOR DIRK KEMPTHORNE
U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Thursday, May 4, 2006
Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Committee, it is an honor to come before you today as you consider my record and qualifications to become the 49th Secretary of the Interior. I thank the President for this opportunity to serve and for the confidence he has shown in me as his nominee.
I am grateful to have served with many of you and to have been one of your colleagues. This is absolutely a wonderful institution and it is a tremendous honor to appear before you in your Constitutional capacity for advice and consent.
I am humbled to have represented the great citizens of Idaho as Mayor, U.S. Senator and Governor. Their support is deeply gratifying and I thank them.
I appreciate the fact that my wife, Patricia, and our children, Heather and Jeff, are with me today. They have been by my side throughout my public service, and continue to be a source of great encouragement. One other individual who would have been here is Heather’s husband, Drew, who is finishing up this week at Army boot camp.
They have allowed me to pursue my passion of helping people, finding solutions to problems, and making our communities and our state a better place to live, to work and to raise a family. I thank my family for that love and support.
While Idaho will always be my home, I have a sense of homecoming being here with you today. This hearing room is directly across the hall from my first Senate office. As I watched the public line up to attend hearings, I remember thinking that this committee seemed a lot more fun than some of my committee assignments.
Sitting here today reminds me, Mr. Chairman, of when we did the Unfunded Mandates Reform Bill. Bob Dole had designated that legislation as Senate Bill 1, and I was asked to be the floor manager.
Mr. Chairman, you were the Chair of the Budget Committee then, and I came to you and, as a rookie Senator, asked if I should do this or whether it would be better for you to be the floor manager. I remember you said, “I’ll think about it overnight.” And then, the next morning you came back to me and said, quote, “You do it, and we’ll see whether or not you are up to it.” Eleven days and nights later, the Senate finally approved Senate Bill 1 on a bipartisan vote.
One of the things that I pledged to the President is that, if confirmed, I would reach out to constituent groups, to seek bipartisan support, to find common ground, and to build consensus.
Mr. Chairman, throughout my public service, I have worked to reach out to both sides of the aisle, to different interests and to different viewpoints. The twelve Senators on this committee who served with me saw my consensus approach.
You saw that John Glenn, a Democrat from Ohio, was my partner on the Unfunded Mandates Bill. You saw that on the Safe Drinking Water Act, the first Senator to sign on as a co-sponsor was Bob Kerrey of Nebraska. That, significantly, was the first environmental bill that contained cost-benefit analysis.
You saw that we worked in a bipartisan effort on the Endangered Species Act. We made great progress, and, if confirmed, I’ll look forward to again being at the table discussing ways to improve the Act and make it more meaningful in helping the very species that we are trying to save.
In my visits with many of you, you have told me that Interior should restore habitat for fish and wildlife, improve economic development and education in Indian country, resolve longstanding water conflicts, and provide responsible energy development.
If confirmed, I will be the first Mayor, United States Senator and Governor to become the Secretary of the Interior. In Idaho and in the Senate, I have worked on the very issues you raised during our visits. I have sought and won consensus solutions. Here are a few examples:
The Northwest once had so many salmon, it is legend that you could walk across the river on the backs of salmon and not get your feet wet. In recent decades, salmon have declined. When I became Governor, I saw that each of the four northwest states were developing their own separate restoration strategies.
Rather than four separate approaches, I asked my fellow Governors in Montana, Oregon and Washington if they would consider working together to explore policy consensus that would be acceptable to our states on salmon recovery. And that’s exactly what we did. I sat down with my fellow Governors and in a collaborative effort, we crossed state lines and political lines to come up with a regional, consensus strategy to salmon restoration.
If confirmed as Secretary, I want to help foster that same collaborative approach on issues you care about – whether it is the silvery minnow in the Middle Rio Grande, the pallid sturgeon in the Missouri or the endangered fish in Klamath.
Many of you have expressed interest in water rights and claims made concerning those water rights. That was true in our state with the claims of the Nez Perce Indian Tribe dating back to the 1800’s. I was intent that we would find a solution. So with the great leadership of the Tribe, surface and ground water users, agricultural interests and municipalities and the Interior Department, we began a dialogue that was – in all honesty – at times acrimonious, tough, and on the verge of collapse. I thought then that the alternative – several more years of litigation – was no alternative at all.
Our discussions transformed adversaries into allies. We crafted a solution that everyone could lay claim to – instead of a process that would determine “winners and losers.” Today, we have an historic agreement. I thank Senators Craig and Crapo and Representatives Otter and Simpson who brought it forward to the Senate and the House for approval.
I commit to bringing the same energy and concern that I had for this settlement to other Indian and water rights issues. Necessity and practicality require that we adopt holistic approaches to water issues. Much of the nation has endured the worst five years of drought in the past five hundred years.
When I came into office as Governor, the Department of Health and Welfare had a division called environmental quality. I created the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and gave it full department status. I elevated environmental issues to their rightful place in my administration, and if you ask industry or the environmental community, they will tell you it was the right decision and we made it work.
I do not believe in bigger government, but I believe in better government.
As Governor, I created a state Office of Species Conservation that was designed to provide Idaho a voice on species protection. The Office of Species Conservation elevated Idaho’s concern over listed species to a new level. I am intent upon saving species. I am not content with this “triage,” where you simply say they’re endangered and then move on to list the next species. I will always ask, “What are we doing to actually restore the species instead of just listing them?”
I am proud of the fact that one of the few species that has been removed from the Endangered Species list is the Peregrine Falcon. Yes, delisted – in part because of the hard work of the Peregrine Fund, a private organization. Idaho is proud to be home to the Peregrine Fund and the World Center for Birds of Prey. Their accomplishments show that species recovery is possible when we work together.
That gives some idea of what I believe in, my style, and the kinds of accomplishments that result from collaboration.
Let me talk about tribal relations, because maintaining good relations with Indian country will be important to me if confirmed as Secretary. I am honored that Chief Allan, Chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, is here with us today. He knows my respect for the government-to-government relationships and the sovereignty of Tribes.
As Senator and Governor, I recognized that Tribes should be partners in discussions that matter. There can be no more important issue than educating Indian children. The Secretary of Interior, working with Tribes, is responsible for 48,000 Indian school children and I take that responsibility seriously.
If confirmed, I look forward to the opportunity to continue the emphasis on educating children as I did as Governor. I commend you and commend the President for investing $1.6 billion in Indian school construction over the past five years that has funded 37 new schools and 45 major repair projects.
I want to raise the level of awareness as we diligently work to heighten the expectations of parents, and inspire hopes and affirm dreams of children in Indian country so that they can achieve anything they put their minds to. We must work so they have the skills and the education they need to accomplish that.
Another great responsibility of the Department of the Interior is its management of public lands and waters that produce 30 percent of the nation’s domestic energy. All of America is experiencing pain at the pump with high gas prices. This is an issue of economic security as well as national security. I pledge to work with you and stakeholders on responsible energy development.
I appreciate your work on the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which identified significant initiatives for the Department of the Interior -- initiatives which pertain to traditional energy sources as well as new sources. I am committed to implementing these initiatives and keeping you informed of our progress. It is noteworthy of the importance that the President and Congress have placed in developing alternative energy sources. I am mindful of the great potential that alternative energy sources can play in providing for our citizens and furthering environmental protection.
Also, because of the new world we’ve entered, the Department will be mindful of its obligations to homeland security and its responsibilities to protect our national icons and our waterways.
Finally, let me affirm my love of the outdoors. Idaho is home to spectacular scenery, and we welcome hunters, anglers and all outdoor enthusiasts who want to enjoy her natural beauty.
When the President announced his intention to nominate me as Secretary of the Interior, he referenced that Patricia and I were married in northern Idaho on Moscow Mountain – at sunrise. There is no more beautiful cathedral than the outdoors. And our entire nation is blessed with countless natural cathedrals, and we should be mindful of those great treasures.
This year, I asked the Idaho legislature to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our state parks. Just a few weeks ago, I was proud to sign the largest appropriation ever for our state parks system. If confirmed as Secretary, the Department of the Interior’s emphasis will continue its responsibility for parks and recreation -- which certainly includes wildlife refuges and access for citizens to enjoy parks and refuges.
Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee, I humbly, and respectfully, ask for your support. All I can pledge is that, if confirmed, I will do the best I can, and I will be honored in making that effort.
This nation, its people and natural beauty are well worth all of our collective efforts to preserve and protect.
I look forward to your questions. Having participated in many Senate hearings, it will be a different experience answering questions rather than asking them. I also look forward to your comments and know that I will come away from this hearing better grounded on the issues facing the Department of the Interior.