President Bush named Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to become Secretary of the Interior March 16, succeeding Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who resigned March 10. The nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.
Norton said she would step down at the end of March after five years in office, with plans to join the private sector.
Kempthorne, a former senator, was a champion of funding for the U.S. Energy Department’s hydropower research and development program. As governor since 1999, he was chairman of the National Governors Association, chairman of the Western Governors Association, and president of the Council of State Governments.
He was a member of the Columbia River Basin Forum, which created a plan to save wild salmon in the Northwest, the White House noted. In 2003, Kempthorne and three other governors endorsed a Columbia Basin salmon recovery strategy that balanced fish and economic interests without breaching four large hydropower dams operated by the Corps of Engineers on the lower Snake River.
Hydro R&D supporter won first NHA honor
While in the Senate, Kempthorne consistently supported increased funding for DOE’s hydropower R&D program to build and test turbine prototypes designed to be more efficient and less hazardous to fish. He also sponsored legislation that would reform the Endangered Species Act.
Kempthorne was the first recipient of the National Hydropower Association’s Legislator of the Year Award for support of hydro industry positions. He addressed NHA’s annual conference in 1994, urging industry to rally behind positive proposals to deal with hydro’s effects on natural resources.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Keys resigns
Also in the Interior Department, Commissioner John Keys III is resigning as head of the Bureau of Reclamation, effective April 15. Keys spent 34 years as a career employee with BuRec, first as a civil and hydraulic engineer and later as director of the Pacific Northwest Region.
Norton announced Keys’ resignation March 17. She lauded his service to the nation and success in handling water issues associated with what she described as the worst five years of drought in five centuries.
BuRec is the second largest producer of hydropower in the U.S. and the largest wholesale water supplier. Its facilities in 17 Western states include 58 hydro plants representing a total installed capacity of 14,758 MW. Those plants annually generate 39,776 gigawatt-hours. BuRec facilities also provide flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits.