Senate panel clears Interior nominee

| Thursday, March 21, 2013, 7:39 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Senate Energy Committee on Thursday endorsed President Obama's nomination of Sally Jewell to be Interior secretary, moving her nomination to the Senate floor for an expected vote next month.

The committee's 19-3 vote in favor of Jewell occurred because Interior Secretary Ken Salazar agreed to review a decision blocking construction of a gravel road through a wildlife refuge to provide access to an all-weather airport in rural Alaska.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, had threatened to hold up Jewell's nomination unless the Obama administration agreed to a land exchange that would allow the road, which would grant access to an all-weather airport for the remote community of King Cove, on the Bering Sea in southwestern Alaska.

Under the agreement, Interior will review an environmental analysis by the Fish and Wildlife Service that concluded the road could be harmful to geese and other waterfowl that fly through the refuge on their way to warmer climates. Murkowski says the report didn't adequately consider the importance of protecting human health and safety.

As part of the agreement, an assistant Interior secretary will visit King Cove and tour the site of the proposed road. If confirmed as Interior secretary, Jewell will tour the site, most likely this summer, Murkowski said.

Salazar didn't visit King Cove before rejecting the road, a point of contention for Murkowski and other Alaska lawmakers.

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