Obama will Tap Colorado Sen. Salazar for Interior Secretary

  • Published on December 15th, 2008

senator ken salazarPresident-elect Barack Obama will nominate Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as the next Secretary of the Department of the Interior, three anonymous Democratic sources have confirmed. The sources say that Salazar has been offered the job, one telling the Rocky Mountain News “It’s a done deal.”

Salazar, a Democrat, is four years into his first term as U.S. Senator from Colorado and has been a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s energy and environmental policies, especially those relating to oil and gas development in the American West. When current Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced the draft rule designed to accelerate oil shale development across the West, Salazar reacted strongly, saying:

“The administration is trying to set the stage for a last-minute fire sale of commercial oil-shale leases in western Colorado, despite the fact that we are still years away from knowing if the technologies for developing oil shale on a commercial scale are even viable.”

[social_buttons]Salazar’s knowledge and experience with public lands and water policy stretch back to his thirty years as a farmer and the eleven he spent practicing environmental and water law in a private practice. And that familiarity with water politics was no more evident than when he called out John McCain back in August, saying the Arizona senator’s remark about wanting to renegotiate the Colorado River Compact was “dangerously naive.”

“I think Salazar will probably revisit the multiple use doctrine for the management of our public lands,” said Colorado State University political scientist Andy Kear, via telephone. Kear, an expert on energy and public lands policy in the American West, said that Salazar would likely strike a more balanced approach in terms of recognizing energy, recreation, and ranching values. Instead of promoting the “Drill, baby, drill” mantra of resource depletion, Kear said Salazar’s motto might be closer to, “Ranch, recreate, and then think about drilling.”

Salazar’s support for clean energy has also been well established. Renewable energy advocates are well aware of Salazar’s work to help pass extensions of the renewable energy production and investment tax credits; as well as his his leadership in getting the small-wind tax credit passed and signed into law.

But Salazar’s mission will not be easy. The Colorado Senator will be charged with taking over a department not only saddled with a raft of last-minute Bush administration regulatory changes vigorously opposed by environmental groups, but also one with deep-seeded and intractable political battles and recent scandals that caught Interior Department employees and oil companies engaging in concerted illicit and corrupt behavior.

In announcing the other members of his environmental team today, Obama hinted that his choice for Interior Secretary would be soon to follow, but few would have guessed it to be this soon. The official announcement from Obama is likely to come some time later this week, but possible replacements are already being discussed to fill the open Senate seat. Some of those names include Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, outgoing Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, Andrew Romanoff, and Salazar’s younger brother, U.S. Representative John Salazar.

Image: Tim Hurst

About the Author

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.