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Energy and Interior Nominations: Nominee Michael Connor




Statement of Michael Connor

Nominee for Commissioner of Reclamation

Before the

U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources

May 5, 2009

Chairman Bingaman, Senator Murkowski, and members of the Committee, I am honored to appear before you today as President Obama's nominee to be the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.  I am fortunate to be joined today by my wife Shari, our two children Matthew and Gabriela, and my parents, Carl and Bea Connor.  Needless to say, without their love and support through the years, I would not be in the position I am today.  For that, I am grateful.

As most of you know, I am in a unique position relative to most nominees, having spent the last 8 years serving on the staff of this Committee.  Given that background, I hope you'll indulge me a brief comment on my tenure here.  In short, these years have been the highlight of my professional career.  During this time, I have been privileged to work with and for, individuals who represent the most positive aspects of public service.  Notwithstanding competing interests, my colleagues have demonstrated time and again, a remarkable ability to stay focused on an overriding goal -- addressing the country's energy and natural resource challenges in a manner reflecting good public policy.  Simply put Mr. Chairman, they follow your example.   

Similarly, I have had the good fortune to work with high-quality professionals on the other side of the aisle.  In the area of water policy, we have worked closely together and have agreed much more than we have disagreed.  But even in those instances in which we did not share similar views, we typically found sufficient common ground to make progress.  If confirmed, I look forward to continuing that approach in my new position.

Finally, I cannot do justice in conveying the value of the support and the friendships that exist on the Committee and in your personal office, Mr. Chairman.  Through both good and difficult times, I have benefited by witnessing the strength, intellect, modesty, and good humor, by which you and my colleagues have dealt with the personal and professional challenges arising during the past 8 years.  I will miss working here, Mr. Chairman.  Thank you, to both you and my colleagues, for the opportunities provided me here.

I am now afforded an incredible opportunity to be a part of President Obama's administration, and to work with Secretary Salazar and the talented team he is putting together at the Interior Department.  I am excited at the prospect but recognize the enormous challenges ahead in addressing water issues facing the seventeen western states.  Similar to energy, water is fundamental to the economic well-being of the West.  Its use, of course, has enormous implications for the environment.  We have not always struck the right balance between these important and sometimes competing interests.  If confirmed, I will continue efforts to find that balance, and to do so as efficiently as possible. 

Taking the helm of the Bureau of Reclamation is a monumental task.  As a New Mexican, one who understands the importance of water in the West, it is a job that I will relish.  Water is a recurring part of my family history.  My maternal grandfather was an original member of Taos Pueblo's water rights task force.  My paternal grandfather was part of the construction crews that built the aqueduct tunnels delivering water to New York City out of the Catskill Mountains.  And one of my great-grandfathers was seasonally employed cleaning ditches for an irrigation district in Southern Colorado.  I have been lucky in my career to carry on a family tradition associated with water.  

As for my qualifications, I am confident that my background as an engineer and lawyer and my experience in the private sector and in government have prepared me well for this position.  First, I understand the issues facing the Bureau of Reclamation.  Drought, climate change, aging infrastructure, increasing population, environmental needs, and site security are all issues that drive a great deal of Reclamation's actions these days.  We have made tremendous progress in this Committee in establishing the programs necessary to confront these issues.  It is my hope that the Senate will now allow me to work on the implementation side. 

Second, I am familiar with the talented staff at the Bureau of Reclamation and I have a general understanding of how the organization functions.  At the same time, I have a perspective that is external to the organization which should enable me to assess its operations objectively and offer a different view on how to improve the agency's mission.

Finally, I am fully aware that the key to making progress on critical water and hydropower issues is to work cooperatively and openly with the different constituencies involved in these issues.  The states, water users, power users, environmental community, Indian tribes, scientists, and several Federal agencies, all have an important role to play.  Progress on seemingly intractable issues will only come through a cooperative effort based on a fundamental recognition of the legitimate interests of each of these stakeholders and a serious commitment to achieving long-term certainty in water use and allocation.  Without that commitment, water policy will continue to be formulated in the courtrooms rather than the negotiating table. 

Of course, the Congress will be at the center of any problem-solving actions which involve the Bureau of Reclamation.  As I've already acknowledged, I have a deep respect for this institution and look forward to working closely with Members and staff to address the water and energy challenges facing their constituents.

Thank you for the opportunity to address my nomination.  I will be happy to respond to your questions at the appropriate time.