The pick of U.S. Senator Ken Salazar as the next Interior secretary is being labeled a failure by the Center for Biological Diversity. But the folks at The Wilderness Society say it's a great choice.
In a blistering reaction to word of that nomination, the executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity calls Mr. Salazar the wrong choice to lead the massive department back to respectability.
As the overseer of the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Mineral 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, says Kieran Suckling.
The Department of the Interior, he notes, 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 Mr. Suckling. "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 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."
Mr. Suckling does note that the senator "has promoted some good environmental actions and fought against off-road vehicle abuse." But yet, "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."
Among Sen. Salazar's record that Mr. Suckling cited as disappointing were the senator's vote against increased fuel efficiency standards for the U.S. automobile fleet; vote to allow offshore oil drilling along Florida's coast; vote to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to ignore global warming impacts in their water development projects; vote against the repeal of tax breaks for Exxon-Mobil; vote to support subsidies to ranchers and other users of public forest and range lands; a threat to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when its scientists determined the black-tailed prairie dog may be endangered, and; opposition to increased protection for endangered species and the environment in the Farm Bill.
"(President-elect) Obama’s choices for Secretary of Energy and his Climate Change Czar indicate a determined willingness to take on global warming," added Mr. Suckling. "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 Ms. Norton, Mr. Suckling notes that Sen. Salazar endorsed the elevation of William Myers III to the federal bench. Mr. 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, says Mr. Suckling, Sen. Salazar praised Mr. Myers' "outstanding legal reasoning" regarding endangered species, Indian affairs, federal lands and water, timber, and fish and wildlife issues. The American Bar Association rated Meyers as "not qualified."
"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, Meyers and Gonzales give us little confidence he will choose wisely in the future."
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
But over at The Wilderness Society, President Bill Meadows is applauding Sen. Salazar's selection, much as the National Parks Conservation Association did the other day.
"Senator Salazar is an excellent choice to lead the Department of the Interior at a critical time when the West faces extraordinarily complex energy, conservation, and development challenges. He has a lifelong understanding and involvement in the West’s public lands issues and, as Senator, has demonstrated time and again that protecting Colorado’s natural features is a priority for him," said Mr. Meadows. "He understands the need to defend the West’s land, water, wildlife, and communities while appropriately exploring for oil and gas and other extractive resources.
"We at The Wilderness Society have always been impressed by the openness with which Senator Salazar conducts his responsibilities as senator on public lands issues. Because he has been a leader in negotiations on several Colorado wilderness bills that are poised to be passed by Congress, including Dominguez Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park, we are confident that, in his new role, he will continue his work to protect the West’s most beautiful and ecologically significant landscapes."