Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who over the past four years has crisscrossed the nation to oversee management of public lands ranging from national parks to offshore energy deposits, will step down from the job in March.
The secretary, a senator from Colorado before he was named to lead the Interior Department by President Obama, said he will return to that state after he leaves the agency.
“Colorado is and will always be my home. I look forward to returning to my family and Colorado after eight years in Washington, D.C.,” said Secretary Salazar in a prepared statement. “I am forever grateful to President Obama for his friendship in the U.S. Senate and the opportunity he gave me to serve as a member of his cabinet during this historic presidency.”
Secretary Salazar's performance on the job has drawn him both praise and condemnation. He was applauded by those outside the oil industry for creating more space between the department, which handles both leasing on federal lands and policing those with leases, and the oil industry.
He led Interior’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and split the former Minerals Management Service into three independent agencies with clear, independent missions to oversee ocean energy management and revenue collection.
“We have undertaken the most aggressive oil and gas safety and reform agenda in U.S. history, raising the bar on offshore drilling safety, practices and technology and ensuring that energy development is done in the right way and in the right places,” the secretary said. “Today, drilling activity in the Gulf is surpassing levels seen before the spill, and our nation is on a promising path to energy independence.”
Regarding national parks, he recently drew harsh criticism for refusing to extend the lease of an oyster farm operating in the waters of Point Reyes National Seashore in California, and for supporting some solar energy projects considered by the environmental community as too disruptive to desert ecosystems in California.
Since 2009, Interior has authorized 34 solar, wind and geothermal energy projects on public lands that total 10,400 megawatts - or enough to power over 3 million homes. Interior officials refer to the solar projects as "a visionary blueprint for solar energy development in the West..."
“I am proud of the renewable energy revolution that we have launched," the Interior secretary said.
Secretary Salazar also was criticized for negotiating a deal with Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead that cleared the way for wolves to be removed from the Endangered Species List, a move that opened the way for wolf-hunting seasons in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, particuarly around Yellowstone National Park.
During his tenure, he saw the designation of Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia, César E. Chávez National Monument in California, the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial in Washington, D.C., Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park in New Jersey, President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site in Arkansas, River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Michigan, and Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial in California.
Secretary Salazar, a fifth-generation Coloradoan, has served his state and the nation for 14 continuous years as Colorado Attorney General, United States Senator and as the 50th secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.