Senator challenges Nevadan’s experience to head BLM

WASHINGTON — Fallout from the Senate’s fight over filibusters ended up falling Tuesday on the Nevadan nominated to head the Bureau of Land Management.

At a Senate confirmation hearing, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., challenged Neil Kornze’s credentials to lead the agency, saying federal law requires a director to have “broad background and substantial experience in natural resource management.”

“I remain concerned you lack the experience required for the position of BLM director,” Barrasso told Kornze, noting recent BLM Directors Bob Abbey and Jim Caswell each had logged more than 30 years as public lands managers before heading the agency.

Kornze, 35, worked at the BLM in Washington since January 2011, and became the functioning head of the agency when when Abbey retired last year. Before joining the BLM, he worked for eight years in the office of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., rising to become senior policy adviser on public lands. He was raised in Elko County.

Barrasso said the scrutiny of Kornze was justified in light of Reid’s move as Senate majority leader last month to force a change in Senate rules to outlaw filibusters on federal nominations.

“Now that the majority leader who happens to have been your boss has eliminated the rights of the minority in the confirmation process, it is more important than ever that the committee weigh the qualifications of all nominees,” Barrasso said at the hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“It is imperative this committee make clear the lower threshold for confirmation does not mean a lower standard for nominees,” Barrasso said. BLM director “is not a position for on-the-job training.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the committee chairman, came to Kornze’s defense. He read into the official record a letter of endorsement for Kornze from John Laird, California secretary of natural resources.

“He has run the BLM for the better part of a year, he has more than a decade’s experience both at the department and in Congress working on these issues,” Wyden said of Kornze. “This is an individual who is steeped in public lands.”

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. said he planned to vote for Kornze, saying the nominee “has displayed maturity and wisdom beyond his years.

“While I have not always agreed with him on policy, he has proven to be a good partner on public land management issues,” Heller said at the hearing.

Wyden said after the hearing he did not believe questions about Kornze’s experience will affect his confirmation. He said the committee will vote on Kornze in January, and he planned to support the nominee “strongly.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.


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