Interior Secretary Ken Salazar later this week is expected to name a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, replacing longtime agency veteran Mike Pool.
Neil Kornze, who served as the Nevada Democrat's policy adviser for public lands and is now BLM's acting deputy director for programs and policy, is expected to take the helm of the 10,000-employee agency by Friday.
Pool, who has served in his acting role since the retirement of former BLM Director Bob Abbey last May, will retire after serving the agency for nearly 40 years.
"It is Secretary Salazar's intent to have Neil Kornze assume the duties of acting director of the Bureau of Land Management," Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said.
While it is unclear how long Kornze will lead the agency before a nominee for director is selected, his role as acting director could raise his profile as the White House and its nominee for Interior secretary, Sally Jewell, consider a permanent successor.
Kornze in December was considered a front-runner to replace Abbey, but that was before Salazar announced he would retire by the end of March and Obama picked Jewell, who leads the outdoor outfitter REI in Washington state, to replace him (Greenwire, Dec. 13, 2012).
As acting director, Kornze would presumably testify before appropriators next month to defend the agency's fiscal 2014 budget, giving lawmakers an opportunity to scrutinize his positions on issues including regulation of hydraulic fracturing, solar development in the Southwest and millions of acres of wilderness-quality lands.
While Kornze served several years with Reid and is likely a known quantity among energy and environmental aides on Capitol Hill, he is yet to testify before Congress.
While with Reid, Kornze played an instrumental role in the passage of the 2009 public lands omnibus bill that designated roughly 2 million acres of wilderness, 1,000 miles of wild and scenic rivers, and a host of other conservation areas. The Elko, Nev., native's portfolio included renewable energy, public lands, mining, water and wildlife.
As acting director, he will oversee a $1.1 billion agency that manages 700 million acres of federal surface and mineral estate; permits a significant portion of the nation's natural gas and renewable energy supply; and oversees recreation, grazing, and wild horses and burro management on vast tracts of Western lands.
Since early 2011, Kornze has played an integral role in crafting BLM's controversial rule to require drillers to disclose the chemicals used in fracking while strengthening well integrity and water management. In December, he accompanied Salazar to Taos, N.M., to hear from residents and business leaders who are asking the president to declare a 236,000-acre national monument (Greenwire, Dec, 17, 2012).
While Kornze's nomination as director may garner support from Reid, whose state contains the highest percentage of BLM lands, it may draw scrutiny from petroleum-state lawmakers. In addition, a BLM retirees group last month said Obama should nominate a career employee as the agency's next director, arguing that it takes years of experience to oversee BLM's multiple, and often conflicting, missions (Greenwire, Jan. 15).
Recent BLM directors, including Pool, have come to the job with decades of natural resources experience, though that is not universally the case.
Abbey had spent more than 32 years working with state and federal land management agencies, including a stint as BLM's Nevada state director, before retiring from the federal government in July 2005.
His predecessor, Jim Caswell, came from Idaho's Office of Species Conservation but had spent 33 years in various positions with the Bureau of Land Management, Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Forest Service.
But before Caswell was Kathleen Clarke, who had led the Utah Department of Natural Resources but previously worked as a congressional staffer
Not good news, I'm going to bed wake me in 2016...TJ