Nine reasons not to trust Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar nominating Sen. Barack Obama as the Democratic Party's 2008 nominee for president at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. (Photo/NewsHour, Flickr)

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar nominating Sen. Barack Obama as the Democratic Party

I am deeply troubled by many of the president-elect’s choices for his Cabinet. We’ve got an anti-family-farm, pro-Monsanto guy going to Agriculture, an inexperienced Republican hack going to Transportation and now Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar to Interior. These are not the changes we need.

The secretary of the Interior, as the head of the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Mineral Management Services, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and enforcer of the Endangered Species Act, is the most important federal position tasked with the protection of America’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. This is not a trifle. In my opinion, Sen. Ken Salazar is not a great choice for that position. Here is why:

1. Mr. Salazar has done little to halt oil and gas drilling on Colorado’s Roan Plateau. Yes, he has protested. Yes, he has “discouraged” the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from opening the area to drilling. But this falls far short of what is needed. Salazar has failed to introduce or support federal legislation to protect this area from destruction and protect the local people from the toxic effects of the drilling. This is a crying shame. The Roan is one of the most incredible places in my home state. That it will be industrialized is nothing short of a calamity.

2. Mr. Salazar strongly supported former Interior Secretary Gale Norton when George W. Bush nominated her to the post. Norton, a former lobbyist for the lead-paint industry, is the source of all the problems Interior faces today. Those problems include Interior employees having sex with oil company executives in exchange for oil and gas leases. And worse. This was a decidedly poor judgment call on Salazar’s part (he also strongly supported Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, as Time magazine recently recalled, “even escorting Gonzales into the U.S. Senate on the first day of his nomination hearings.”)

3. Mr. Salazar has consistently supported the interests of the oil and gas industry above the need for conservation and alternative energy sources. He maintains very strong industry ties. He voted (like Obama) for the appalling 2005 energy bill. He voted to end the offshore drilling moratorium; he voted against the repeal of tax breaks for Exxon-Mobil and voted against increasing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

4. Mr. Salazar has consistently supported corporate welfare for the ranching community to the detriment of the environment. He has, again and again, pushed rancher subsidies. He has fought endangered species protection. As Colorado attorney general, he threatened to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for even thinking about listing the black-tailed prairie dog as endangered.

5. Mr. Salazar voted against a very popular bill that would have forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider climate change impacts when planning water projects.

6. Mr. Salazar got the American taxpayer stuck with the bill for cleaning up the Summitville Mine Superfund site.

7. Mr. Salazar supported the bill to allow guns in national parks. Ugh.

8. Native Americans have never been too impressed with Mr. Salazar. Interior has a big impact on Native American populations, and they will need a strong advocate in charge at Interior.

9. Finally, Salazar pushed for the elevation of William Myers III to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Myers, a long-time lobbyist for the ranching industry, is widely considered to be one of the most anti-environmental judges around. This is a guy who argued to allow a company to mine cat litter on ground considered sacred by Native Americans. This was a guy with Abramoff connections. This is a guy who sees the Clean Water Act as some sort of fascist pronouncement.

To be fair, Obama could have chosen worse. Salazar has a decent score with the League of Conservation Voters. He has voted for wilderness bills, and he has supported tax breaks that encourage conservation on private lands. While we already see agribusiness and mining groups praising the choice, at least the Republicans won’t be able to call him an environmental extremist. That must be worth something.

What concerns me is Mr. Salazar’s judgment. We know how things work in D.C. We know that the oil and gas industry will have unfettered access to the secretary of the Interior while citizen groups will have to go through the low-level staffers to get their message heard. Will someone who supported Alberto Gonzales and Gale Norton have the ability to make wise decisions when it comes to protecting water, air, wildlife and public lands?

Mr. Salazar is not a visionary. He is not a change agent. Mr. Salazar has a very interesting and compelling story as a fellow Westerner. However, from my viewpoint, he has little interest in protecting biodiversity and even less interest in a fossil fuel-free economy. This is not the change we need.

The best we can hope for now is that Mr. Salazar will prove us wrong.

Please Mr. Salazar, prove me wrong.

Jim O’Donnell is a fourth-generation Coloradoan from Pueblo. He is a former oil and gas industry employee and was a leader in the fight to protect New Mexico’s Valle Vidal. He lives near Taos, N.M., where he is a principal in the firm Collaborative Green.

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Jim O'Donnell

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