Contrary to media reports that Sen. Ken Salazar — who’s expected to be nominated today for secretary of the interior — is a friend to industry and a foe to the environmental movement in the West, some Colorado conservationists say he’s the right man for the job.
“His record in recent years has been a very balanced one, and that reflects that he was representing his constituents here in Colorado, which is a pretty evenly divided state,” said Ryan Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild. “I’ve respected the senator for doing a commendable job of trying to strike a responsible balance on natural resource issues.”
National Public Radio Monday reported that a coalition of more than 100 environmental groups, many of them based in the West, sent a letter asking President-elect Barack Obama to nominate Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, to head the Interior Department.
The report quoted representatives of the mining and agriculture industries who were pleased with the Salazar selection over Grijalva, and also cited environmentalists who clearly favored the Arizona congressman over the Colorado senator.
“Oregon and the rest of the West need an interior secretary who understands the damage done over the last eight years and is willing and ready to step in and begin charting a new course for the department,” Oregon Wild’s Steve Pedery told NPR. “Rep. Grijalva has demonstrated that he is ready to restore integrity at Interior.”
But Colorado Wild’s Bidwell said Salazar, a fifth-generation farmer from southern Colorado who headed the state’s Department of Natural Resources and served as attorney general, should be able to effectively clean house at Interior.
“It’s a really challenging time to be taking that post,” Bidwell said. “The Interior Department has been riddled with scandals over the last few years. It really needs a strong leader, and I’m optimistic that Ken Salazar will do a good job.”
On Tuesday, several media sources, including The New York Times, reported that a probe of the Interior Department by the Office of the Inspector General found serious problems with 15 decisions on policies related to species at risk of becoming extinct.
And over the years there have been other accusations of improper or shoddy science in making critical decisions about the management of public lands. Bidwell said Salazar stood up to the oil and gas industry and the Bush administration to slow the rush to approve wholesale oil-shale leasing.
“Oil shale is a good example of where Sen. Salazar was diligently pushing for a more reasoned and scientifically informed approach when it comes to oil shale development, and that’s obviously desperately needed,” he said.
After initially spearheading a one-year congressional ban on commercial oil-shale leasing, which expired in September, Salazar has since been an outspoken critic of U.S. Bureau of Land Management rules for permitting and royalties for the unproven industry that he said “sell Colorado short.”
Bidwell also cites Salazar’s key role in establishing the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Southwest Colorado and his demands that the Forest Service give greater consideration to the environmental and socio-economic impacts of a massive ski village proposed for Wolf Creek. That project, which Colorado Wild sued to halt, is now on hold.
And while Colorado Wild felt efforts by the state’s congressional delegation last session to speed up forest management in the wake of the mountain pine beetle epidemic by loosening National Environmental Policy Act review of logging projects were misguided, Bidwell said Salazar’s consensus-building showed his ability to reach across the aisle.
“We didn’t necessarily agree with the delegation on the bill that they introduced last session with regard to forest health and forest management issues in Colorado, but the approach the delegation took in terms of trying to work toward something they all could live with is a commendable approach, and I hope that that spirit of collaboration will continue into Sen. Salazar’s new tenure in Interior.”