WASHINGTON -- Facing certain defeat by the Senate, James Cason asked President Bush to withdraw his name from nomination for a key environmental post, the Department of Agriculture announced.
Calling the move 'a significant loss to the nation,' Agriculture Secretary Clayton Yeutter announced in a brief statement Monday Cason's decision to withdraw.
Cason's decision came three days after Senate Republicans said the controversial nomination faced certain defeat on the floor, and Democrats urged Bush to withdraw the nomination.
Cason, now an acting assistant interior secretary, was Bush's choice to be assistant agriculture secretary for natural resources. The job entails supervision of the 191 million-acre national forest system and the Soil Conservation Service.
But conservation and environmental groups took the unusual step of opposing Cason from the outset. They said he built a 'pro-exploitation' record at the Interior Department and would be a poor steward of public lands.
Supporters said Cason unfairly was getting the blame for policies decided at higher levels.
Yeutter called Cason's withdrawal 'a great disappointment.'
'The lobbying effort against him was both misguided and unfair,' Yeutter said. 'Mr. Cason has a brilliant career ahead of him. Regrettably it will not include the position for which he was nominated.'
Foes accused Cason, 35, of using his influence to suppress an unfavorable report and to oppose federal protection of the northern spotted owl, of allowing valuable oil shale land to be sold for $2.50 an acre, delaying the Forest Service from writing its own oil and gas leasing rules, and of changing Interior Department rules -- after industry complained -- for checking if oil and gas royalties had been paid.
Cason said his motives had been misinterpreted and that he had tried to do the right thing in every instance.
The son of an itinerant farm family, Cason has been a high-ranking Interior Department official since 1982. He became an acting assistant secretary in February.
On Oct. 19, the Cason nomination was approved 12-7 by the Agriculture Committee after a six-month investigation. The chance of a possible defeat on the floor grew a couple of weeks ago when Sen. Bennett Johnston, D-La., chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, joined the opposition.
Last week, opponents said a Senate head count showed up to 60 senators opposed Cason and claimed the nomination was dead. The Sierra Club said the opposition showed Americans did not want a 'return to the plundering policies of the Reagan era.'