Utah senators thwart Interior nominee, mystery hold placed on Strickland

Now that Ken Salazar is a member of the Obama Administration, his former Republican Senate colleagues — with whom he frequently caucused — can dispatch with all that upper chamber nicey-nice.

Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett are blocking a key Interior Dept. nominee over a grudge match instigated when Salazar pulled 77 controversial oil and gas leases on public lands in Utah.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Utah duo are blocking the confirmation of environmental lawyer David Hayes to become the deputy secretary:

“It’s the only leverage we have on getting the department to pay attention on some very important issues,” Bennett said. “I’ve made it very clear that I want to work with [Salazar] as closely as we can … but I can’t just take an assurance from him that ‘oh yes, we’ll settle this,’ and they’ll give me everything we want.”

Bennett says the way Salazar canceled the lease auction has made people in Utah and other Senate colleagues — whom he didn’t name — concerned about the department’s potential future actions.

His message to Salazar is, “You have sent ripples of fear throughout the state and beyond the state on what type of administration you want with what you’ve done here,” Bennett says.

Senate GOP colleague, Orrin Hatch, shares the concern.

Another Interior nod is also being blocked though Bennett denies any involvement. A hold has been placed on the nomination of long-time Salazar associate and former U.S. Senate candidate Tom Strickland to be assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife. Strickland is now serving as Salazar’s chief of staff and will remain in that role should he be successfully confirmed to head federal nature conservation programs.

While no one has publicly admitted to the Strickland hold perhaps it’s to stymie the growing “Colorado cabal” at Interior where Salazar is stacking top Interior appointments with Centennial State colleagues.