UPDATE, Wed. Dec 17: I congratulate Sen. Salazar and offer him my help in the interest of conservation. I'll give him a chance, even though I don't think he's the best choice.
OTHER COVERAGE: Arizona Daily Star, Grijalva talks about Interior pick; Tucson Citizen, Why did Obama forsake Grijalva?; International Herald Tribune, Praise and Criticism for Proposed Interior Secretary; New York Times, Environmentalists Wary of Obama's Interior Pick.
TUCSON -- It appears likely President-elect Barack Obama and his controversial Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will nominate conservative Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado to head the US Dept. of Interior.
Since no official announcement has yet been made, I urge Obama to make a better pick. Overall, I and other American conservationists who deal with Interior are disturbed, but mining, livestock, argibusiness and other industries who have dominated Interior for years are excited about Salazar, which should worry anyone concerned with the public-interest.
While Salazar has promoted a few decent environmental actions, his overall record is decidedly mixed, and is especially weak in the arenas most important to the next Secretary of the Interior: protecting scientific integrity, combating global warming, reforming energy development and protecting endangered species.
Salazar has voted against increased fuel efficiency standards for the US automobile fleet; voted to end protection for offshore oil drilling off of Florida’s coast; voted to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to ignore global warming impacts in their water development projects; voted against the repeal of tax breaks for ExxonMobil; voted to support subsidies the livestock industry and other users of public forest and BLM lands; threatened to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service when its scientists determined the black-tailed prairie dog may be endangered; and fought efforts to increase protection for endangered species and the environment in the Farm Bill.
Some comments from Interior experts about Ken Salazar, with more coming out every hour:
From Reuters: Big oil executive 'BP America Chairman and President Robert Malone... expressed approval for U.S. Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado, Obama's nominee for secretary of the interior... Also, Malone called for access to the Outer Continental Shelf for energy exploration...'
From NPR: 'The only ones pleased with the rumored pick were those in the agriculture and mining industries. During the campaign these folks, generally, were counted as supporters of Republican John McCain.'
"Salazar is the first name mentioned that we could support," said Laura Skaer, executive director of the Northwest Mining Association.
"Of all the names mentioned, Salazar is the one we're happiest with," said Dan Keppen, head of the Family Farm Alliance. Note: Keppen was formerly the head of Klamath Water Users Association, the group that worked with the Bush administration to manipulate science and overturn salmon restoration efforts in the Klamath Basin (leading to the deaths of as many as 70,000 salmon before they could spawn in September of 2002). His current group was launched to be the lobby front for agribusiness interests that get Bureau of Reclamation water.
From the Arizona Daily Star: Patrick Bray of the (anti-conservation) Arizona Cattlemen's Association on Salazar, "We feel that he understands the issues very well and that he would be a very viable candidate."
Colorado wildlife biologist Dr. Nicole Rosmarino in Denver: "Ken Salazar does not bring the change we need at Interior. Salazar will not take strong stances on behalf of science and environmental protection and is not up to the task of undoing the enormous damage the Bush administration has done to public lands, endangered species, and the credibility of the Department of the Interior over the last 8 years."
Also in the Star: Jon Marvel of the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project says: Salazar "will completely undermine Obama's message of change. He will not bring change to the public lands of the western United States." He called the appointment "a travesty."
Coloradan Rob Edward of WildEarth Guardians says: "President Elect Obama is set to stick it to wildlife and public lands in the West, by appointing Senator (and rancher) Ken Salazar to head the Department of the Interior."
Arizonan Ron Kearns, a former wildlife biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior Dept. agency, says: "As a 30-year Republican, I will regret having voted for Obama if this happens."
Coloradan Phil Doe, who formerly worked with Interior agency Bureau of Reclamation says of Salazar: "He's green washed himself of late with his stand on the BLM oil and gas leases, but he is at bottom the same cautious careerist he always has been, aimlessly testing each decision for its potential impact on his slow steady rise to the top of the pond.
"He is anathema to many Dems here, especially for his support of the the war, his avuncular embrace of the little torture maestro, (Alberto) Gonzalez.., and his insistence that he is the senator for rural America. The latter is code for big ranching and farming America, the same people who are rewarded lavishly every year with a bundle of goodies from Washington. It sure as hell doesn't mean rural labor, among the poorest of the working poor. ...he is outright disliked by activist Dems.
"One thing is for sure, he would make the traditional big farm and ranch interests happy. And it is probably from this group that his name surfaced. From my own vantage, I would make book that the O man's promise of infrastructural restoration in the west would mean more dams and probably some irrigation at the public's expense if Salazar could influence the nature of the expenditures, and why couldn't he. He ain't much, and there is a place reserved in hell for his kind, the parsers. The O man needs to toss the west a bone, and Salazar sure as hell isn't it."
Arizonan Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity says: "The Department of the Interior desperately needs a strong, forward looking, reform-minded Secretary. Unfortunately, Ken Salazar is not that man. He endorsed George Bush's selection of Gale Norton as Secretary of Interior, the very woman who initiated and encouraged the scandals that have rocked the Department of Interior. Virtually all of the misdeeds described in yesterday's Inspector General expose occurred during the tenure of the person Ken Salazar advocated for the position he is now seeking."
"Obama’s choices for Secretary of Energy and his Climate Change Czar indicate a determined willingness to take on global warming. That team will be weakened by the addition of Ken Salazar who has fought against federal action on global warming, against higher fuel efficiency standards, and for increased oil drilling and oil subsidies."
Also from Suckling: 'In addition to his misstep on Norton, Salazar endorsed the elevation of William Myers III to the federal bench. Myers was a former Interior Department Solicitor and lobbyist for the ranching industry. Senator Leahy called him ''the most anti-environmental candidate for the bench I have seen in 37 years in the Senate." Bizarrely, Salazar praised Myers' "outstanding legal reasoning" regarding endangered species, Indian affairs, federal lands and water, timber, and fish and wildlife issues. The American Bar Association rated Meyers as "not qualified." Salazar later supported Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, introducing him at his Senate confirmation hearing.'
"One of the most important jobs of the Secretary of the Interior is to help pick dozens of critically important political appointees to oversee America's conservation system. His past misjudgments of Norton, Meyers and Gonzales give us little confidence he will choose wisely in the future," says Suckling.
As an ecologist and supporter of Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva as the best choice for Interior, at this time I'm wary of Salazar, but I will give him a chance to change his ways if he is nominated and confirmed as Secretary.
If Obama nominates Salazar, add it to the questionable pick of Lisa Jackson for EPA for a somewhat shaky start for his energy and environmental agenda.
With all due respect Mr. Obama and transition team, these picks are not the most courageous, and are not 'the change we need or can believe in' on energy and the environment.