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Senate panel approves Bush pick for Interior secretary

Louisiana senator votes "present" to protest administration’s refusal to share offshore oil and gas royalties with Gulf Coast states.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday sent Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's nomination as Interior secretary to the full Senate on a voice vote, the Associated Press reported.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., voted "present" to protest the Bush administration's refusal to share a portion of offshore oil and gas royalties with Gulf Coast states. Landrieu's vote drew a rebuke from Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who noted that Kempthorne is a former senator and widely supported by lawmakers in both parties.

"I think your cause is not well-served by doing what you're doing today," Domenici said. "What you're doing essentially is saying no to the nominee. I wish you wouldn't be doing that to him."

Landrieu replied that she was not voting no and called Kempthorne an "outstanding" nominee. Landrieu and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., have said they intend to place a hold on Kempthorne's nomination.

Nelson said he is opposed to an Interior Department proposal allowing oil and gas drilling off the Gulf of Mexico. GOP leaders are aiming to bring the nomination to a floor vote before Memorial Day.