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By Miriam Raftery

May 13, 2009 (San Diego’s East County)—Senate Republicans blocked the nomination by President Barack Obama of David Hayes to serve as deputy secretary of the Interior Department. Hayes, who held the same position in the Clinton administration, has drawn opposition from some community leaders and environmentalists locally due to his recent role as lobbyist for Sempra Energy. Sempra’s Sunrise Powerlink Project must be approved by the Interior Department for federal lands in San Diego’s East County in order for the project to be constructed.

"The Obama Administration can do better than appointing a former SDG&E/SEMPRA Energy lobbyist to protect our nation's public lands. Sometimes things happen for a reason." Diane Conklin, Mussey Grade Road Alliance spokesperson, told East County Magazine. The Alliance has intervened with the Public Utilities Commission to oppose Powerlink based in part on the high fire danger which a state environmental impact report has found that the project would pose.

Laura Cyphert, East County Community Action Coalition, had this to say. "According to the Interior of Land Mangagement website, the `mission of the Department of the Interior is to protect and provide access to our Nation's natural and cultural heritage and honor our trust responsibilities to Indian Tribes and our commitments to island communities.' I was very concerned when a former Sempra/SDG&E lobbyist was nominated for this very important position, as I doubted his ability to perform these duties without significant bias," she said. "I was thrilled to hear that he was rejected, and remain hopeful that the next nominee will be a more appropriate choice to protect our public lands and cultural sites."

Donna Tisdale, chair of the Boulevard Planning Group and founder of Backcountry Against Dumps (BAD), also praised the blocking of Hayes’ nomination. “The Hayes rejection is a good thing for us based on his previous position as paid lobbyist for Sempra / SDG&E and his reported work on their transmission and energy projects,” she said. “Access to decision makers is everything and Sempra and SDG&E have far too much of that already. The Dept of Interior is already throwing open the door for the industrialization of our public lands to for-profit corporations like Sempra, and to foreign corporations like Iberdrola Renewables, for unecessary and destructive large scale renewable energy projects and massive transmission lines. They will reap billions at expense of the US taxpayers and ratepayers when there are better, cheaper ways to generate renewable energy at or near the point of use. It is unfortunate that the Obama administration seems to be conducting business as usual.”

Hayes fell three votes short of the 60 needed to invoke cloture, limit debate and allow the nomination to proceed. The nomination was blocked after Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah) placed a hold on the nomination due to concerns over Interior Department cancellation of oil and gas drilling leases near national parks in Utah. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has pledged to continue trying to force a vote on the nomination. No other Obama nominee has come to a vote and failed to get support required to attain confirmation.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar calls the vote “a tired vote of bitter obstructionism” and praised Hayes as a “qualified and fine person.” In a stastement released today, he added, “We have answered every question and worked to find common ground on difficult issues, but the American people rightfully want change from the Obama Administration and from the Department of the Interior. We will deliver that change. The American people will know, once again, that the Department of the Interior is wisely managing their treasured landscapes and their natural resources on their behalf.”

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