DENVER (AP) – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is noncommittal about serving a second term for President Barack Obama.
The Denver Post Sunday reports that Salazar in an interview said his recent decision to do an about face on a controversial order protecting millions of acres in the West recognizes that there are legal restrictions on the department.
“I’m not going to look that far into the future,” Salazar told The Denver Post when asked whether he would continue to serve if Obama is re-elected in 2012. “I’m working very hard on the job I have now . . . to implement the vision the president has in energy security in the United States.”
In 29 months as interior secretary, Salazar has faced the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history with the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as an uphill battle against policies from the Bush administration.
Salazar in December announced that he would allow the Bureau of Land Management to make millions of acres of undeveloped land in the West eligible for federal wilderness protection, overturning a Bush-era policy that could allow oil and gas development. Salazar backed away from the so-called “wild lands” plan after Republicans stripped the program’s funding in a continuing resolution to fund the federal government.
Salazar’s about face angered many environmentalists. Wilderness Society President Bill Meadows told the Post that Salazar’s new plan to work with Congress to develop a management plan for “wild-lands” isn’t as strong as the environmental group would like it to be.
“But I understand the politics,” Meadows said.
Salazar said the department “pushed the reset button, and the reset button recognizes that we have a legal restriction on us,” acknowledging Congress’ pulling the funding.
Salazar also took heat from environmentalists and Obama over his department’s response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the ensuing oil leak.
“Everyone I know in D.C. thought Salazar would be shown the door after the disaster with the gulf spill given that even the president publicly apologized for the lack of oversight by the Interior Department,” said Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.
Salazar ordered a moratorium on new offshore drilling leases following the spill. That moratorium was blocked by a district judge after a group of companies sued, claiming the government couldn’t prove that existing and planned drilling operations posed any danger.
Environmentalists applaud Salazar’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative that designates more than 2 million acres of wilderness and another 4 million acres of protected lands.
“We’ve had some terrible secretaries in recent years, and we finally have someone in there who is a rancher and a hunter and grew up on the land, and so he has a real land conservation ethic,” said Dennis Buechler, a former wildlife commissioner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Some environmental groups, they want everything. He has to do a balancing act, and I think he does it real well.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)