U.S. Sen. David Vitter announced on 15 February a hold on Dan Ashe, President Obama’s nominee to lead the US Fish and Wildlife Service under the Department of the Interior, until the department issues at least 15 deepwater exploration well permits and complies with previous requests for answers on the permitting process.
“Louisianians are desperate to get back to work. Filling those jobs is my top priority, and that has to come first. I love fish and wildlife, but my top priority is to stop the economic devastation caused to humans by the moratorium,” Sen. Vitter said.
He continued: “The Interior Department has destroyed jobs in Louisiana, contributing to the bankruptcy of at least one major employer, and is breaching contracts with other employers and putting taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars. On top of that, the department is now ignoring a federal court’s contempt order and has consistently refused to answer my straightforward questions about delays in the permitting process. The department’s actions are not only harming Louisianians but are significantly increasing the federal deficit by cutting off a major source of revenues that would otherwise be generated from offshore energy exploration.”
Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu later voiced support for Sen. Vitter’s move. “I support Sen. Vitter’s hold on the confirmation of a new director for the Fish and Wildlife Service until the Interior Department issues new deepwater permits. This is certainly a prerogative that senators have and one I have exercised in the past on this issue,” Sen. Landrieu was quoted as saying on nola.com. She blocked a nomination to the Office of Management and Budget last fall to protest the drilling moratorium.
In the first six months that the moratorium was in effect, unemployment increased in Louisiana even as the national unemployment rate declined. On 11 February, Seahawk Drilling filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That announcement came on the heels of federal judge Martin Feldman’s ruling holding the Interior Department in civil contempt for its refusal to comply with his earlier injunction against the offshore drilling moratorium.
Sen. Vitter’s hold on the Ashe nomination is his second hold on an Interior Department nominee. He is also holding NOAA chief scientist nominee Scott Doney over similar concerns. Sen. Vitter is still awaiting a full and satisfactory written response to his November 2010 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar regarding the continuing de facto drilling moratorium and his letter earlier this month to Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes regarding breach of contract claims against Interior by current Gulf drilling operators.