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Raúl Grijalva right person to untangle Interior mess

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

President-elect Barack Obama is said to be on the verge of selecting his secretary of the Interior – a position vitally important to the western United States.

We hope Obama selects U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat who represents part of Tucson and a wide swath of southern Arizona. While our support of Grijalva could be dismissed as provincial backing for a fellow Arizonan, Grijalva’s record as a stalwart steward of the environment makes him the best person for this job.

Congressional Quarterly reported this week that Obama had not decided on his Interior secretary, but Grijalva was one of a handful in the running. Obama was expected to announce his energy and environment team – including the head of Interior – any day now.

Grijalva’s environmental expertise was evident last week when he issued a sharp rebuke to the lame-duck Bush administration for what Grijalva termed “midnight” changes to rules.

The Bureau of Land Management, which manages 258 million acres of federal property, last week removed from its regulations a provision that gives congressional committees the power to compel the Interior secretary to place public land off limits to mining, oil and gas interests.

Grijalva tried to use the provision to halt uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. It was the first time the rule has been used in more than 20 years.

The House Natural Resources Committee voted 20-2 to block the mining, but the Bush administration is ignoring the order while contesting the vote.

Grijalva labeled that and other rule changes “midnight regulations to roll back protections for our environment which are coming down the pike before the new administration is sworn in.”

Should Grijalva be selected, he would bring needed environmental sensitivity and responsibility to the Interior Department.

In a biting 23-page study of the Bush legacy, Grijalva wrote that the president “pushed a concerted strategy of reducing the protections for our public lands, parks and forests, and opening up these lands for every type of private, commercial and extractive industry possible.”

When Bush took office, there was $4.9 billion in overdue maintenance at national parks – the crown jewels of the nation. Today, that backlog is between $9.7 billion and $14 billion.

Grijalva has the support of about 130 environmental and animal-protection groups. Interior also deals with Indian lands, and Grijalva is knowledgeable about the government’s obligations to the tribes. A coalition of Native American groups has urged Obama to appoint Grijalva to head Interior.

It is certain the U.S. Department of the Interior will do a badly needed about-face under Obama. Grijalva would be the best person to lead that turnaround.


The Arizona Democratic congressman accused Bush of ‘reducing the protections for our public lands, parks and forests.’

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