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Environmental group rips Obama's choice of Ken Salazar as Interior Secretary

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Local coverage of Barack Obama's selection of Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as the next Secretary of the Interior has mostly been rah-rah, sis-boom-bah. Take the Denver Post editorial "Salazar a Wise Choice for West, Nation." But as noted in a National Public Radio story, assorted environmental groups are considerably less than thrilled. Among those NPR-piece participants painting Salazar as a crony of "very traditional, old-time, Western extraction industries" was Kieran Suckling of Tucson's Center for Biological Diversity, whose organization has issued a strongly worded release lambasting the nod. Its headline: "Ken Salazar a Disappointing Choice for Secretary of the Interior: Stronger, More Scientifically Based Leadership Needed to Fix Crisis-Plagued Agency."

Click "More" to read CBD's case against Colorado's soon-to-be cabinet appointee. -- Michael Roberts

Ken Salazar a Disappointing Choice for Secretary of the Interior: Stronger, More Scientifically Based Leadership Needed to Fix Crisis-Plagued Agency


TUCSON, Ariz.-- Strong rumors are circulating that President-elect Barack Obama has selected Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., as the new Secretary of the Interior. As the overseer of the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Minerals Management Services, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Endangered Species Act, the Secretary of the Interior is most important position in the protection of America's lands, waters, and endangered species.

The Department of the Interior has been rocked by scandals during the Bush administration, most revolving around corrupt bureaucrats overturning and squelching agency scientists as they attempted to protect endangered species and natural resources from exploitation by developers, loggers, and oil and gas development. As recently as Monday, the Interior Department Inspector General issued another in a string of reports finding that top Department officials systematically violated laws and regulations in order to avoid or eliminate environmental protections.

"The Department of the Interior desperately needs a strong, forward looking, reform-minded Secretary," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. "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 the 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."

While Salazar has promoted some good environmental actions and fought against off-road vehicle abuse, 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:

- voted against increased fuel efficiency standards for the U.S. automobile fleet

- voted to allow offshore oil drilling along 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 Exxon-Mobil

- voted to support subsidies to ranchers and other users of public forest and range lands

- threatened to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when its scientists determined the black-tailed prairie dog may be endangered

- fought efforts to increase protection for endangered species and the environment in the Farm Bill

"Obama's choices for Secretary of Energy and his 'Climate Change Czar' indicate a determined willingness to take on global warming," Suckling said. "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."

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 Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., 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 Myers 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," Suckling said. "His past misjudgments of Norton, Myers and Gonzales give us little confidence he will choose wisely in the future."


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