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Bush Picks Kempthorne for Interior

by David Melmer
Indian Country Today, March 17, 2006

WASHINGTON - President George Bush has picked Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to replace Gale Norton as Secretary of the Interior Department.

Kempthorne is a former U.S. Senator and was also considered a front-runner to head the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003.

In announcing Kempthorne's nomination, Bush said, ''Dirk has a long and abiding love of nature.

''Dirk understands that those who live closest to the land know how to manage it best, and he will work closely with state and local interests to ensure wise stewardship of our resources.''

Bush did not mention American Indian issues in his comments. The BIA is one of the largest bureaus within Interior and more than two million Natives are dependent on the trust and fiduciary responsibility give to it.

Kempthorne, if approved by the Senate, will have his name associated with the Cobell v. Norton trust management lawsuit as the defendant, replacing Norton's.

''Five years ago, many leaders from Indian Country voiced their support for the nomination of Gale Norton to be the Secretary of the Interior. This time around, I think you are going to see us all be a lot more cautious,'' said Tex Hall, former president of NCAI and Chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota.

''The job of Secretary carries with it the sacred responsibility of keeping the United States' end of the bargain of honoring our treaties. I have high hopes for the new Secretary, but he needs to come up with a plan for real progress and real consultation with Indian Country.

''That means taking a hands-on approach to settling the Cobell lawsuit, committing to actually visiting Indian reservations and sitting down with Indian leaders one-to-one. And it means working with all of the tribes, starting the day he is sworn in, on the development of a budget for Indian Country that does not shirk the trust responsibility.''

Kempthorne's official comment is that he will not comment on any issue that could come before the committee during confirmation hearings. He would not comment on the Cobell case.

Darren Williams, attorney for the Nez Perce Tribe, said the Nez Perce and the governor reached a wolf management agreement in 1996. They also worked out, with the state and the federal government, a water rights agreement of the Snake River basin.

''He is aware of Indian issues; whether he is sensitive to them, I don't know,'' Williams said.

The relationship between the tribes and the governor was workable, he said.

Nez Perce Chariman Rebecca A Miles said her tribe and Kempthorne had a good working relationship. There was collaboration and it was respectful.

The majority of contacts between the tribe and the governor were before her tenure as chairman, which started in May of 2000.

Environmental advocates were much stronger in their criticism of Kempthorne.

''Gov. Kempthorne has built his career by pushing an anti-environmental agenda and catering to the oil, mining and timber industries. Kempthorne is cut from the same cloth as Gale Norton. He will be a cheerleader for the Bush administration's efforts to open public lands to industrial development,'' Earthjustice, an environmental organization, stated in a prepared statement.

Kempthorne was a one-term U.S. senator and, according to environmental watchgroups, cast one vote that was favorable to environment issues.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell's name came up as a possible replacement for Norton. Some tribal chairmen said he would be friendlier toward issues that affected the nation's American Indians.

Kempthorne was involved in the Salmon Recovery Project that included four states and the tribes of the region. That project included tribes that were impacted by hydropower dams that harmed the salmon migration, thus creating an adverse economic benefit to the tribes.

David Melmer is based in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Bush Picks Kempthorne for Interior
Indian Country Today, March 7, 2006

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