Kempthorne is Interior pick

Bush's choice of Idaho governor, ex-senator immediately draws environmentalists' scorn


WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday that he will nominate Gov. Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho to be secretary of the Interior Department, selecting a former senator - and fellow bike rider - to "ensure wise stewardship of our resources."

"Dirk will continue my administration's efforts to conserve our land, water and air resources, reduce the maintenance backlog of our national parks, support historic and cultural sites ... and develop the energy potential of federal lands and waters in environmentally sensitive ways," the president said in an Oval Office appearance with Kempthorne at his side.

If confirmed by the Senate, Kempthorne, 54, would succeed Gale A. Norton, who resigned last week after more than five years in office.

The nomination drew quick and sharp criticism from environmentalists.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said Kempthorne had "consistently opposed protecting public health and public lands."

Kempthorne, in his eighth year as governor, previously served six years in the Senate.

The League of Conservation Voters gave him a rating of 6 (on a 0 to 100 scale, with 100 at the top) in his first year in the Senate, and a zero each subsequent year.

In the Senate, he chaired the Environment and Public Works Committee's subcommittee on drinking water, fisheries and wildlife.

"As a senator and a governor, Dirk Kempthorne has been an unabashed champion of the resource extraction and development interests that profit most from public lands," Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, said in an e-mailed statement. "The president could not have chosen a more divisive nominee."

Bush met for about a half-hour with Kempthorne at the White House this morning and offered him the job, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said.

The two men served as governors at the same time, with the last two years of Bush's tenure in Texas overlapping with the start of Kempthorne's governorship in Idaho. The president has in the past called on those he knew as governors to serve in his Cabinet. Kempthorne was a prominent, though unsuccessful, contender in 2003 when the president was looking for someone to head the Environmental Protection Agency. "Dirk understands that those who live closest to the land know how to manage it best," Bush said.

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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