Gardner letter questioning Interior nominee aims to pressure Udall

FOX 31 Denver

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Washington, DC, March 28, 2014 | By Eli Stokols | comments

Congressman Cory Gardner has written a letter to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee expressing concern that a Dept. of Interior nominee up for a confirmation vote Thursday is anti-natural gas.

That letter, obtained by FOX31 Denver Wednesday evening, is addressed to the committee chairwoman, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana — but it’s really meant to send a message to Sen. Mark Udall, the Democrat Gardner is challenging this November.

Udall also sits on the committee and will vote Thursday on the nomination of Rhea Suh to be the Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks at Interior.

Gardner, R-Yuma, writes that Suh has “a history of hindering natural gas development throughout the country,” pointing to a 2007 statement she made that “the pace and magnitude of [natural gas] development is easily the single greatest threat to the ecological integrity of the West.”

Gardner, who sits on the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is a strong supporter of the natural gas industry, also argues that recent unrest in Russia and Ukraine underscore the importance of continuing to develop and export natural gas from the United States.

“Ms. Suh’s nomination will have a significant impact on energy production, specifically natural gas production and LNG exports,” Gardner concludes the letter, which is also signed by the three other Republicans in the Colorado delegation, Mike Coffman, Scott Tipton and Doug Lamborn.

“We encourage you to vote against her confirmation.”

While Gardner isn’t allowed to conduct official campaign business from his congressional office, his official letter seeks to draw out the contrast between himself and Udall on energy issues.

Udall responded to Gardner’s letter about Suh Wednesday night.

“While Sen. Udall disagrees with her comments seven years ago, she has since then made clear that she support natural gas development as part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy,” said Mike Saccone, Udall’s spokesman. “Sen. Udall takes her at her word.”

Udall, whose wife was the leader of The Sierra Club and is thought of as a strong conservationist and champion of new energy technologies like wind and solar, moved quickly last week to introduce legislation allowing the U.S. to export LNG to Ukraine.

Gardner followed suit the next day with a similar bill in the House.

Oil and gas issues are likely to be a major factor in the Udall-Gardner battle this fall, with Colorado, a state experiencing a major oil and gas boom, also likely to be voting on a ballot measure to let local communities ban fracking, certain to galvanize many voters and outside organizations with much at stake.

The industry’s employs some 30,000 Coloradans — the average salary is in the low six figures — and its total economic output is close to $30 billion annually in Colorado.

But as oil and gas wells encroach on communities along the northern Front Range, concerned citizens have responded by pushing to limit or ban development in some cities and towns.

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