Ken Salazar had a good run at Interior

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Here’s a look back in time at a column I wrote for the Colorado IndependentFarmer and listener, Salazar is a good choice for Interior — where I sized up what I thought he would do in the post and tried to introduce the Senator to those that didn’t know him yet.

From the Colorado Independent (Scot Kersgaard):

While liberals and environmentalists tend to view Salazar as a centrist, moderate and level-headed pragmatist, conservatives and people in the oil and gas business sometimes have viewed him as an obstacle to the American Way.

“Secretary Salazar assumed the job with an attitude that the oil and gas industry needed to be reined in, and we have certainly seen the results,” said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president for government and public affairs at the Denver-based Western Energy Alliance…

Before Salazar took over, the top people at Interior were “super cozy with the oil and gas industries,” says Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “The Department was a mess when he came in. The oil and gas industry could get anything they wanted, so today when the industry screams about regulation, it rings hollow.”[...]

On alternative energy, Salazar leaves a legacy of opening federal lands — and waters — to large-scale alternative energy development. The Department approved 34 utility-scale renewable energy installations on public lands, including solar, wind and geothermal facilities. When built out, these projects will be amongst the largest of their types in the world and could produce more than 10,000 megawatts of electricity — or enough power for about 3.4 million houses. The Department has also mapped out additional public lands — including some in Colorado — for future development of renewables. It says development of renewables has doubled in the U.S. since 2009. The Department has also proposed leases for the nation’s first offshore wind projects which, if developed, could power an additional 1.4 million homes…

In a widely publicized move, Salazar blocked new uranium development on a million acres near the Grand Canyon. That decision was greeted by cheers from the environmental community but was panned by energy developers and is now the subject of litigation…

Mountain States Legal Foundation, a conservative property rights oriented non-profit law firm, is one of the groups most unhappy with Salazar. Its website currently lists numerous cases against Salazar or Interior.

“We are in litigation challenging his million-acre lock-up of public lands,” said MSLF President William Perry Pendley. “There is simply no environmental basis for withdrawing that land from development.”

Pendley said Salazar has overreached with his wild lands proposals and with his oil and gas rules. “His regulations are killing hydraulic fracturing and will cost this country hundreds of millions of dollars for no reason, and will lead to lawsuits. He has abused his position.”[...]

When Salazar took office, one of his promises was to implement science-based, rather than politics-based decision making, and to take climate change into account when making policy.
Interior has collaborated with other federal agencies and universities to open a number of regional Climate Science Centers around the country, including one in Ft. Collins.

“The Department today has a lot more respect globally and is seen as a place of bold leadership on climate and other issues,” said Maysmith. “Salazar has been a leader in that shift.”

Not every global issue grabs headlines like climate change. But Will Gartshore, senior program officer for U.S. government relations at the global World Wildlife Fund, said Salazar was instrumental in quieter issues such as cracking down on the trafficking of wildlife and parts poached from wildlife around the world. “He was consistently supportive of the need to stop rhino horns from entering the country.”

Gartshore said Salazar has also been instrumental in speeding up efforts to consider animals for endangered species inclusion and in taking climate change into account when looking at whether a species is endangered or not…

Jim Lochhead, water attorney and CEO of Denver Water, said one of Salazar’s signature accomplishments was negotiating a major Colorado River agreement with Mexico that allows Mexico to store more water in the U.S. and also encourages more environmentally sound practices.

Lochhead said that with all the competing interests among the seven states who rely on Colorado River water, one thing he noticed was that Salazar elevated the role of parks and recreational uses. Interior also produced a major report on the Colorado River and its future that raises the question of whether the river will be capable of handling future demand. The answer, Lochhead suggests, is that the region’s water future will be determined largely by the ability and resolve of all the parties to continue working together and forging partnerships. While he said the influence of Interior is significant, in the end it all comes down to the states…

John Salazar said the one thing Salazar is likely to be remembered for is the establishment of the Great Outdoors America program in 2009, which created more than two million acres of wilderness areas, added more than 1000 miles of river to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers program and put a conservation agenda front and center in the Administration.

As for what happens next in Salazar’s career, insiders expect him to spend some time in private legal practice, but also say they anticipate him taking another political role. Among the positions that get mentioned are governor, Supreme Court justice, vice president and even president.

From The Denver Post (Karen E. Crummy/Bruce Finley):

As the nation’s largest landlord, he rewrote chunks of the book on managing public lands and dealing with American Indian claims. But it is a tenure not without controversy: He opened the Alaskan Arctic for oil drilling and issued an unprecedented moratorium on offshore drilling after BP’s Macondo well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.

Yet, it is precisely because Salazar, a Democrat, was able to navigate those emotionally charged issues — whether that meant brokering deals or making unilateral decisions — that he returns to Colorado with most of his political image intact.

“Out of most people in the Cabinet, he was able to remain a centrist. Sure, he did things to make people angry, but when everyone’s a little unhappy with you, that usually means you’re successful,” said political analyst Jennifer Duffy, who assesses elections and political trends for the independent, bipartisan newsletter The Cook Political Report…

…a few months later — April 20, 2010 — that BP’s well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and contaminating the gulf with more than 200 million gallons of oil.
Salazar, who became the public face of the administration’s response, brought in the heads of drilling and production companies — even those who had nothing to do with the spill — to discuss what equipment and technology were needed and available to cap the leak.

Salazar said he convened the meeting because “no one had answers. I didn’t have the answers. We had to find a solution and turn over every rock.” Shortly after the spill, Salazar lashed out publicly. He declared he would keep a “boot on the neck” of BP until the company fixed the leak. If there ever had been a sense by energy production companies that Salazar was trying to work with them, rather than against them, it ended on that day, some in the industry said. The boot comment “permeated into private meetings with the secretary. The meetings were adversarial. We never felt like it was collaborative. We felt like we were in the penalty box, even those of us who weren’t involved in the spill,” said Jim Noe, executive vice president of Texas-based Hercules Offshore.

Salazar also helped settle decades-old, multi-billion dollar land-and-water disputes with American Indian tribes, one of the most prominent examples supporters point to when describing his hand-on, aggressive approach to brokering deals. Six water settlements gave Western tribes control over huge amounts of water they had sought in lawsuits, and committed the government to paying more than $2 billion for dams, pipelines and reservoirs. Salazar also helped finalize a $3.4 billion settlement in a class-action case where plaintiffs wanted as much as $176 billion, claiming that the government incorrectly accounted for Indian trust assets that belong to Americans Indians.

From The Durango Herald editorial staff:

Bringing with him a commitment to striking the best balance possible when addressing the friction between preservation and extraction, Salazar led the department effectively, pragmatically and to positive result. That is all the more impressive given the polarized climate in Washington, D.C., during his tenure – a tension that did not leave the Interior Department untouched…

He also brought a uniquely Colorado land protection and appreciation model to the national level. Perhaps one of his greatest pre-Interior legacies was his crafting of Great Outdoors Colorado, the program that provides lottery funding to land protection and outdoor access across Colorado. Borrowing heavily from GoCo was America’s Great Outdoors, a sweeping initiative designed to connect more Americans to our wealth of public land resources – and ensure that those critical lands receive the care and protection they deserve. The effort sought local input on treasured lands and recreation opportunities and resulted in a grass-roots-generated series of recommendation for securing those opportunities into the future.

Salazar can be proud of these and his many other achievements at the helm of the Interior Department. Coloradans can be proud, too. His return to the state is a significant asset and we look forward to his next role.

More coverage of the 2008 Presidential Election here.

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