The Senate on Thursday confirmed J. Steven Griles to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department, elevating a longtime ally and energy industry official to the agency's No. 2 job.
By voice vote, the 53-year-old lobbyist and natural resources consultant was confirmed for the post to which President Bush nominated him in March.
The nomination ran into objections from Democrats who said that as a member of the Reagan administration, Griles had pushed for oil drilling off California's coast and pressured government scientists to play down the environmental risks of the drilling.
"He has placed the interests of powerful special interests above the public," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said before the vote.
Wyden also complained that from recent conversations with Griles, he believes that Griles has not moderated his views.
Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the Senate had done "an injustice" to Griles by taking too long to approve the nomination.
Sen. Conrad R. Burns (R-Mont.) complained that Griles was merely one of many top-level appointees that the Democratic-led Senate has yet to act on.
Griles worked with Gale A. Norton, the Interior secretary, when both were at that department in the 1980s as political appointees of the Reagan administration.
Griles joined National Environmental Strategies Inc. in 1995. That group has represented the mining association, the American Petroleum Institute, Occidental Petroleum and Shell Oil.
Before that he was an executive at United Co., a Bristol, Va.-based natural resources firm handling everything from coal, oil and gas development and gold mining to real estate and golfing operations.