Salazar to lead 'deeply troubled' Interior department

Nick Snow
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 17 -- Barack Obama formally nominated US Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) on Dec. 17 to lead what the president-elect termed a "deeply troubled" Department of the Interior. He praised Salazar's ability to bring groups with opposing viewpoints together to reach solutions.

He also named former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack Agriculture Secretary. "Tom understands that the solution to our energy crisis will be found not in oil fields abroad but in our farm fields at home," Obama noted and said the two men would "work with others to develop a new US energy economy that relies more on domestic alternative and renewable resources and less on foreign oil."

Saying he wants "a more proactive Interior Department," Obama said Salazar has extensive experience on issues the new administration will confront in both traditional and new forms of energy.

"If there's going to be a debate about oil shale, I want Ken at the table," Obama said. Salazar has opposed efforts to lease western lands for oil shale development and in late September said that when Congress reconvened, he would try to extend a moratorium on the Bureau of Land Management's proposed oil shale regulations (OGJ Online, Sept. 26, 2008). He also has opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Oil, gas properly managed
Saying he would do everything he could to reduce US dependence on foreign oil and to develop "the new energy economy," Salazar said he also would ensure that traditional resources, including oil, gas, and coal are properly managed.

The presidents of two leading independent oil and gas producers' associations applauded Salazar's selection. "Sen. Salazar knows better than most the importance of the job he is about to take on," said Barry Russell of the Independent Petroleum Association of America in Washington. During Salazar's US Senate tenure, he demonstrated that he's willing to listen to all sides and viewpoints and find common ground on complicated and contentious energy issues, Russell added.

"He is also a life-long advocate of a multiuse approach to managing our public land and accessing safely the resources that lie beneath it. The livelihoods of thousands of independent oil and gas operators across the country remain inextricably linked to that access, and that's a point we intend to make early, often, and with purpose as this new administration begins to take shape," he said.

Marc W. Smith of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States said the Denver-based organization had worked with Salazar for years and is confident that he views natural gas development in the area as an important long-term element in national and regional energy supplies.

"As a Westerner, Sen. Salazar knows that green jobs in the natural gas industry are important to state and local economies. Since many states increasingly look to gas to complement and enable renewable energy technologies, there is a strong rationale for consistent and responsible development on federal lands in the Intermountain West," Smith indicated.

Gas production from the region will become more important as Obama tries to carry out his campaign promises to make the country less dependent on foreign energy sources while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Smith said. Ninety-seven percent of the gas the US consumes is produced domestically (with 27% coming from the West) and, since gas emits just over half the carbon dioxide of coal, it will become even more significant, he said.

Environmentalists
Western business leaders who commended Salazar's nomination decried attempts by some environmentalists to derail it. Although the group Earthworks applauds the nomination, some others—the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, and Western Watersheds Project—want to derail it.

"Ken Salazar listens to all side of an issue," said Roundtable executive director Britt Weygandt. "It's unfortunate that there are extremist groups in the West that don't admire that quality in our government leaders. We do."

Urging the senate to approve Salazar, Waygandt said, "We look forward to continuing to find areas of agreement with the Obama administration and particularly with our new secretary of the Interior on water, public lands, energy policy, and endangered species regulation," she said. "We know that we will get a fair hearing even on those issues where we disagree."

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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