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Aurelia Skipwith Confirmed to Run U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1)

Dec. 12, 2019, 5:50 PMUpdated: Dec. 12, 2019, 7:04 PM

Aurelia Skipwith, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official who oversaw lands and waters within wildlife refuges and national park systems, was confirmed by the Senate Dec. 12 to the agency’s top job.

The Senate voted 52-39 to confirm Skipwith, who will serve as director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, a division of the Interior Department that makes determinations on what species are endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Democrats Doug Jones of Alabama, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia joined Republicans in supporting Skipwith.

A former researcher and executive at Monsanto, Skipwith has served as the Trump administration’s deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. She will be the first black person to head Fish and Wildlife—something that Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said before her confirmation would be “another historic opportunity for progress and equality.”

Some Democrats as well as environmental groups argued Skipwith lacked enough experience in wildlife management to be qualified for the top Fish and Wildlife job. But Republicans said they hoped the she can bring an innovative approach to managing the agency.

The easements and wetlands determinations under the Fish and Wildlife Service “impose tremendous uncertainty on [agricultural] producers and do not have an adequate appeals process,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources and Appropriations committees, in a statement.

“We made the cost and challenges of this approach clear to [Interior] Secretary [David] Bernhardt during his recent visit to North Dakota, and we will work with Director Skipwith in her new role to provide much-needed relief from these burdens to our farmers and ranchers,” Hoeven said.

Diversity in Administration

Skipwith is also one of the few women or people of color now in top Senate-confirmed positions in the Trump administration.

The April 2019 resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and October 2019 resignation of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley raised questions among the Trump administration’s critics about its lack of diversity among Cabinet officials and top advisers.

Trump’s Cabinet now includes three women: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson is the lone black person in the Cabinet.

Trump also has nominated Jovita Carranza to lead the Small Business Administration, but her nomination has yet to advance in the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Skipwith’s confirmation comes as the Senate is running out of time in 2019 to act on Trump administration nominees.

Any nominees who don’t get a confirmation vote in December will likely have to be resubmitted to the Senate next year, unless the Republican majority can get an agreement from the Democratic minority to keep those nominees before the Senate in 2020.

Among those still awaiting Senate confirmation: James Danly, nominee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Robert Feitel, nominated for inspector general of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Katherine Lemos, tapped for a seat on the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, an independent body that investigates petrochemical and chemical plant explosions; and Katharine MacGregor, Trump’s pick for deputy secretary of the Interior Department.

(Adds detail in third paragraph about Skipwith being first black Fish and Wildlife director.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

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