WASHINGTON — For many liberals, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar deserved to wear the white cowboy hat he often wore in public. His tenure represented an embrace of environmental interests and a rejection of traditional resource development.
“Ken has helped usher in a new era of conservation for our nation’s land, water, and wildlife,” President Obama said in a statement Wednesday.
“He understands that we don’t inherit the earth from our parents. We borrow it from our children. Ken knows that principle and has worked to leave our nation better than how he found it,” Sen. Mark Udall said in a press release.
Yet for many conservatives, Salazar was viewed in a different light: His hat was more black than white. They said instead of listening to their concerns, he pursued the rigid agenda of the green lobby.
After the Bureau of Land Management announced in July that it would delay proposed federal rules on regulating hydraulic fracturing, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) wrote an open letter to Salazar that was critical of his department’s handling of the draft process.
“We have heard that several interested parties that the BLM did not listen to the feedback from oil-and-gas-producing states,” Gardner wrote.
Salazar’s critics were not limited to those on the political right.
Wild-horse advocates too criticized the outgoing Interior Secretary, whose family operates a large ranch in southwestern Colorado. They suggested he was negligent for allowing the sale of more than 1,700 wild horses to Tom Davis, who had worked on the Salazar family’s ranch and is under investigation for re-selling the horses to Mexican kill buyers. Salazar said he had “no recollection” of Davis.
Salazar’s announcement Wednesday that he will step down as Interior Secretary may quiet the controversy of his four years in office.
Salazar, 57, said he was resigning for personal and family reasons. “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.,” he wrote in a public statement.
Gardner issued a press release that thanked Salazar for his service. “He has worked very hard the past four years and no doubt sacrificed time away from his family in order to do the job,” Gardner said.
Salazar arrived in the nation’s capital in 2005 after his election as a U.S. Senator from Colorado. He was appointed and confirmed as Interior Secretary after his former Senate colleague Obama was elected president in 2008.
By the time Salazar departs his post in March, he will have achieved some of his goals. Those include:
- setting aside 2 million acres for federal wildlife protection
- naming seven national parks
- authorizing 34 solar, wind, and geothermal energy projects on public lands
Yet those accomplishments came with a price.
- The budget for the Interior Department rose to $11.5 billion this year from $10.7 billion in 2008.
- After public pressure, he apologized publicly to a Colorado Springs reporter for threatening to punch him out at a Nov. 6 election-day event at a local Democratic Party headquarters.
- A non-partisan watchdog organization filed a formal complaint with the Office of Special Counsel against Salazar for violating the Hatch Act when he campaigned for Obama on the Western Slope in October.
Other parts of Salazar’s legacy are up in the air.
The Interior Department is expected to issue guidelines on hydraulic fracturing on public and Indian lands this year. And Colorado political insiders continue to speculate that Salazar may seek public office again, perhaps as a candidate for governor.