Interior nominee Kempthorne backs away from plan to sell U.S. forests

Senate confirmation hearings began yesterday for Interior Secretary nominee Dirk Kempthorne, and oh, the fun that was had. One hot topic was the Bush administration’s proposal to fund rural schools by selling thousands of acres of public land; the Dirkster, who supported sale of public lands when he was a senator, surprised many by stating, “On the sale of public land for deficit reduction for operating expenses, I do not favor that.” (Carefully phrased loophole alert!) Kempthorne, who was drilled (ha!) with energy questions, also indicated he’d like to speed up domestic drilling applications — he supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — and revamp the Endangered Species Act. He’s almost sure to be confirmed, though Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) have threatened to delay the process over offshore-drilling issues.