President Obama’s top environmental and energy officials will appear Wednesday at Senate hearings to defend the White House budget plan, according to The discussion is certain to spark debate between Obama and the Republicans on climate change, green energy spending and more.

The fiscal year 2012 request will probably bear little resemblance to spending plans that Congress ultimately adopts, but its consideration is a forum for debate on competing political and policy goals.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will testify in the morning before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, an appearance that arrives two days after Interior approved the first deepwater drilling permit since last year’s BP oil spill. But Republicans and pro-drilling Democrats say the department needs to be more aggressive in granting permits.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.), the committee’s top Republican, previewed her line of questioning Tuesday.

“The deepwater moratoria was lifted back in October and yet it’s taken nearly five months to approve the first well permit. DOI now has about two weeks to issue four more permits if it’s to comply with the court’s order,” Murkowski said in a statement. “DOI clearly needs to step up its game in order to approve projects in a timely and responsible manner.” A Louisiana federal judge on Feb. 17 gave Interior 30 days to decide whether to issue five deepwater drilling permits.

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