Bush nominee has no 'agenda' on Clinton decisions
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JUNE 21, 2001

Although a number of Republican lawmakers are seeking review of the 11th-hour decisions of the Clinton administration, Interior Solicitor nominee Bill Myers told a Senate panel on Wednesday he isn't out to rescind any of them.

"I have no agenda of systematically reviewing individual opinions to see whether they are good bad or otherwise," Myers told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during his confirmation hearing.

But Myers offered no assurances that he wouldn't eventually consider the objections of Republicans. That could mean bad news for Sandia Pueblo of New Mexico, the beneficiaries of a legal opinion approved by former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt on his last day on the job.

"I know that certain members of this committee . . . have interest in those opinions," said Myers. "We'll take a look at them as the case should arise."

After decades of pursuit, Sandia Pueblo is on the verge of total victory over its claim to the western face of the Sandia Mountains, which the tribe considers sacred. In January, Myers' predecessor John Leshy authored an opinion which concluded the tribe was wrongfully deprived of 10,000 acres of land now under the management of the US Department of Agriculture.

The decision would mean the Pueblo's eastern boundary would be changed to correct the historical oversight. But Senator Pete Domenici and Representative Heather Wilson, both Republicans from New Mexico, have asked Secretary Gale Norton to set aside the opinion.

The pair also oppose a settlement the Pueblo entered into with the federal government. They argue that the rights of non-Indian private landowners and Bernalillo County -- both of whom voluntarily dropped out of settlement talks -- need to be addressed before the issue can be resolved.

The objections are a key part to the dispute. Without approval of New Mexico's Congressional delegation, the proposed settlement remains in limbo.

Yet even if Congress fails to enact the settlement, correcting the Pueblo's boundary wouldn't occur until 2002. Domenici has threatened legislation to prevent a potential change.

For his part, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is largely ambivalent -- at least publicly -- on the issue. "This has been an intense and complicated issue for several years," he said. "Whoever is the new Solicitor needs to take the time to study the issue carefully, and not make rash decisions."

Jude McCartin, Bingaman's spokesperson, added: "Senator Bingaman doesn't seek the limelight especially in issues that are being handled in the courts."

As chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Bingaman controls of the fate of Myers' nomination. At the conclusion of yesterday's hearing, Bingaman said he had no timetable on approval for Myers.

In addition to Myers, the committee heard from Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget nominee Lynn Scarlett and Assistant Secretary for Water and Science nominee Bennett Raley.

Relevant Links:
Sandia Pueblo -
Senator Pete Domenici -
Rep. Heather Wilson -
Bernalillo County -
Energy and Natural Resources Committee - Office of the Solicitor -

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