Secretary Salazar announces plan to return home to Colorado

Jan 18, 2013

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced last week that he will return to his home state of Colorado, having fulfilled his promise to President Obama to serve four years as secretary.

Salazar, who led the response to the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, will leave the department by the end of March.

The former Colorado lawmaker has spent eight turbulent years in Washington, four as a U.S. senator and four as head of the Department of the Interior (DOI).

“Colorado is and will always be my home. I look forward to returning to my family and Colorado after eight years in Washington, D.C.,” said Salazar.

While in office, Salazar has been less than popular with many organizations, and has oft been accused of creating tension and conflict between industries and environmentalists. His battle between improving industry relations and protecting the environment has been controversial.

Public Lands and Environmental Regulations Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop released a statement on Salazar’s departure, pointing out some of the struggles.

“Secretary Salazar was not a friend to my home state of Utah or other public lands states for that matter. Under his watch, the Department of Interior sought to impose historic new limits on access and multiple use of our nation’s resources and worked aggressively to hinder certain types of domestic energy production. While Secretary Salazar does bear some of the blame for the Administration’s particularly abysmal first four years, it is not entirely his fault. The fact that certain forms of energy were prioritized and favored and new land designations catered to certain types of users can be blamed on the fact that this Administration is beholden to radical special interest groups. My hope is that the next Department of Interior Secretary is a fellow westerner. It is equally important that whoever assumes the helm of the Interior recognizes the importance of multiple use and access and is willing to stand up to special interest groups looking to the Administration to impose restrictive new policies through executive fiat,” Bishop said.

Despite the controversies, a press release from the White House put Salazar on a pedestal, crediting him for improving areas in energy and conservation during his term.

According to the release, Salazar has helped usher in a new era of conservation to protect America’s lands, wildlife and heritage.

“Under the banner of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors program, Interior has established ten national wildlife refuges and seven national parks since 2009; established forwardthinking protections for wildlife and preserved millions of acres of land; and implemented community-driven, science-based conservation strategies that take into account entire ecosystems and working landscapes,” the release states.

Salazar adds to the release, taking credit for partnerships with landowners.

“From the Crown of the Continent in Montana to the prairie grasslands of Kansas to the Everglades Headwaters in Florida, we are partnering with landowners, farmers and ranchers to preserve their way of life and the irreplaceable land and wildlife that together we cherish,” Salazar said. “We have established an enduring vision for conservation in the 21st century that recognizes all people from all walks of life.”

Changes in renewable and conventional energy were also credited to Salazar, including 34 solar, wind and geothermal energy projects.

“Today, the largest solar energy projects in the world are under construction on America’s public lands in the West, and we’ve issued the first leases for offshore wind in the Atlantic,” said Salazar. “I am proud of the renewable energy revolution that we have launched.”

Salazar has been in the hot seat with the oil and gas industry, beginning with the Gulf oil spill, but the administration credits Salazar for an overhaul of the Interior’s management of oil and gas resources, implementing tough new ethics standards for all employees.

“He led Interior’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and split the former Minerals Management Service into three independent agencies with clear, independent missions to oversee ocean energy management and revenue collection. Interior has offered millions of acres offshore in the Gulf of Mexico for safe and responsible exploration and development and is proceeding with cautious exploration of Arctic resources. Onshore, Interior has also leased millions of acres for oil and gas development over the last four years while protecting special landscapes for hunting and fishing and other uses,” according to the release.

The release also mentioned the progress made during Salazar’s term regarding Native American lands. A settlement was reached and passed that addressed “long-standing injustices” involving the government’s trust management.

“The President signed into law six Indian water rights settlements, totaling over $1 billion, that will help deliver clean drinking water to tribal communities and provide certainty to water users across the West. Salazar spearheaded a sweeping reform—the first in 50 years— of federal surface leasing regulations for American Indian lands that will streamline the approval process for home ownership, expedite economic development, and spur renewable energy in Indian Country,” according to the release.

Salazar’s announcement comes amid criticism over Obama’s second-term Cabinet nominees. The majority of Obama’s nominations have gone to white males, including the secretary of state, secretary of defense and secretary of the treasury.

Salazar, a fifth-generation Coloradoan, has served his state and the nation for 14 continuous years as Colorado attorney general, U.S. senator and as the 50th secretary of U.S. DOI. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor