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Energy and Interior Department Nominations: Hilary Tompkins




Statement

Of

Hilary C. Tompkins

As nominee to the position of

Solicitor of the Department of the Interior

Before the

Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Of the

United States Senate

April 23, 2009

Chairman Bingaman and members of the Committee, I am honored to appear before you as President Obama's nominee to be the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior.  I ask for your consent to the President's nomination.

I thank you for providing me with the opportunity to present to you my background and qualifications for this position.  For the past year, I have been a stay at home mom and taught a seminar at the University of New Mexico law school.   

For a majority of my career I have served in the public sector.  I have represented the United States and the State of New Mexico.  I also have represented various Indian tribes and pueblos.  In this regard, I have a broad and unique perspective.  I am comfortable and conversant in the culture of these various governmental entities, which I believe gives me a valuable awareness of and sensitivity to their distinct interests.    

I have expertise in the areas of environmental, natural resources, water, and Indian law, as well as experience in the areas of constitutional law, administrative law, and the legislative process.  I have considerable litigation experience and have appeared on behalf of my clients in tribal, state, and federal courts.  I've witnessed the challenges firsthand of bringing governmental entities and different groups together to tackle the difficult and complex issues of water management and compliance with laws such as NEPA and the Endangered Species Act.

I also have the experience of serving as a political appointee at the highest levels of the New Mexico state government.  As chief counsel to Governor Bill Richardson of the State of New Mexico, I was responsible for advising the Governor on all legal matters as well as managing a legal team and overseeing the general counsels in over twenty agencies.  From this experience, I understand the importance of providing unbiased and intellectually honest advice to a chief executive and to governmental agencies.  I believe in working in a collaborative fashion and meeting with the interested parties, affected communities, experts, and elected officials to learn the best solution to often difficult and complex issues.   

If I am confirmed, I will bring all these experiences and values to the position of Solicitor.  I understand that the Department of the Interior presents its own unique set of challenges, where the balancing of competing interests is a frequent occurrence and the multitude of issues can be staggering at times.  I am prepared to take on these challenges.  I have and will always have an open mind, a strong work ethic, and a commitment to providing the best legal advice to my client and to my country.  I also will have the benefit of working with the exceptional attorneys in the Solicitor's Office.

I am humbled to be considered to serve in this capacity.  As a young Justice Department attorney, I received training from John Cruden—some of you may know him.  He is a well-respected, senior lawyer in the Justice Department's Energy and Natural Resources Division.  John told us that we must never forget that it is the greatest honor and privilege to stand before a court of law and state "I represent the United States of America."  I have never forgotten his wise words and have carried them with me all these years.  I would represent the Department of the Interior with great pride and with these words in mind if given the opportunity.      

On a personal note, I was born on the Navajo reservation to a family that was burdened with the social ills of alcoholism and poverty.  When I met my birth mother, she told me that she did not want me to grow up in that situation and that was why she gave me up for adoption as a baby.  I was fortunate to be placed with wonderful, caring parents who raised me in Southern New Jersey.  It was far from "Indian Country" but I never forgot where I came from.  At times it was difficult being a Native American without any culture or community.  I distinctly remember visiting the Natural History Museum here in Washington, D.C. as a young child and seeing a display of Navajo Indians behind a pane of glass.  I wanted to climb into the scene spread out before me and become a part of it, but at the same time I felt like it was foreign.  It was the love, support, and guidance of my parents that allowed me to navigate this world and find my place in it. 

I attended Dartmouth College in part to join their Native American student program and learn more about my heritage.  As a young adult, I reconnected with my roots and lived on the Navajo reservation.  I learned about my Navajo culture which at its core stresses the importance of respecting and living in harmony with the earth.  I went to law school after practicing in the Navajo tribal courts as a lay practitioner - an opportunity given to tribal members who pass the Navajo bar exam.  It is because of these experiences that I am able to adapt and exist in different worlds.  As a lawyer, I am able to inhabit these worlds with a duty and purpose. 

It would be the greatest honor and a privilege to serve the United States as Solicitor of the Department of the Interior. 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to testify before you today.  I stand ready to answer any questions you may have.