WASHINGTON — The Obama administration won't be able to fill a key science position until it testifies about a decision to block areas of the eastern Gulf and Atlantic seaboard from new oil and gas drilling, a Republican senator said Thursday.
Sen. David Vitter, R- La., said in a letter to President Barack Obama that he was putting a "hold" on the nomination of Dr. Scott Doney for chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He first wants answers to the tough new policy on offshore drilling announced earlier this month.
Under Senate rules, a single senator can prevent a nominee from getting a vote on the Senate floor. It takes 60 vote to override such "holds."
Vitter said he wants Carol Browner, Obama's chief energy and climate change adviser, and Steve Black, counselor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, to testify under oath before the Senate Small Business Committee on a November report by the Interior Department's inspector general.
That report concluded that the White House edited a drilling safety report in a way that made it appear that scientists and experts supported the administration's six-month ban on new deep-water drilling.
"Louisianians are distraught by your administration's disregard for scientific integrity, the health of the U.S. economy and domestic energy production," Vitter told Obama in the letter.
Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said Vitter was "posturing."
"No amount of political pressure is going to weaken our commitment to delivering strong oversight, strong safety standards and clear rules of the road for offshore oil and gas production," Barkoff said. Interior says the inspector general's report was an editing mistake and not an issue of wrongdoing or scientific integrity.
Vitter said he also wanted a response to a letter he sent to Salazar last month about what he a de facto drilling moratorium.
Louisiana's Democratic senator, Mary Landrieu, also held up a confirmation vote for White House budget chief Jacob Lew for several months to protest the administration's offshore drilling policies imposed after last summer's BP oil spill in the Gulf.
The administration's drilling announcement reversed a March plan that would have authorized officials to explore the potential for drilling from Delaware to central Florida, plus the northern waters of Alaska.
Obama nominated Doney in August to be NOAA's top scientist. He is currently a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.