Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar – newly nominated for secretary of the Interior – has his work cut out for him repairing the damage to public lands wrought by the Bush administration.
While we regret that our own congressman, Raúl Grijalva, did not get this appointment, we’re glad another true Westerner from a neighboring state was named.
Salazar, born and raised in the poor, rural San Luis Valley of Colorado, headed that state’s Department of Natural Resources and was attorney general before he was elected to the Senate in 2004.
While with the DNR, he pushed for the Great Outdoors Colorado initiative that allocates lottery money to protect parks, rivers, trails and wildlife.
Salazar this year blasted the Bush administration for opening Colorado’s Roan Plateau for oil shale development. Also this year, he pushed for stricter environmental standards for the mining industry.
Salazar’s enviro record mixed
But some of his actions concern us.
For example, he voted to allow concealed handguns and other firearms in national parks, monuments and wildlife refuges – a rule opposed by seven former National Park Service chiefs as well as the associations for rangers, parks conservation and park retirees, plus leading environmental groups representing millions of Americans.
The rule takes effect in January, replacing a Reagan-era policy that had parks visitors unload and stow their guns.
Salazar voted in 2005 for the energy bill that gave handouts to industrial polluters.
And while still with the Colorado DNR, he vowed to sue if the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed the Black-tailed Prairie Dog as a threatened species. It didn’t.
Wield enormous powers wisely
In announcing the nomination, President-elect Obama called for protection of environmental treasures.
We hope Salazar heeds that call, especially with the advent of uranium mining exploration on the periphery of Grand Canyon National Park, among other ongoing travesties, many of them right here in Arizona.
As Interior secretary, Salazar would oversee 500 million acres – one-fifth of our nation’s land – wielding enormous power over oil and gas drilling and mining on public lands.
Also under his purview would fall the policymaking for national parks, monuments and wildlife refuges as well as oversight of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
And he would be responsible for numerous other agencies under Interior, many of which have been steeped in corruption in recent years.
As the point man on energy in the West, will Salazar bring long-overdue transparency to the Bureau of Land Management permitting process?
Our last Interior secretary from Colorado, Gale Norton, wound up working for Shell Oil Co. in its pursuit of shale.
Clearly, Interior needs a major infusion of ethics, environmental stewardship, professionalism and wise policymaking. After eight years of smash-and-grab exploitation of our most precious places, our new Interior secretary must put a stop to the nonsense.
Fortunately, Salazar has an ally in Grijalva – and the blueprint for reforms that Grijalva released in October.
We look forward to a new approach in Interior, with transparency and collaboration replacing exploitation.