Ken Salazar’s recent conversion from President Barack Obama’s liberal Interior secretary to a supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline and fracking for natural gas has heads scratching from Colorado to Washington, D.C.
The Democrat and former Colorado Senator resigned from his Interior post April 12, which means he is forbidden to lobby Congress or any federal government agency for one year.
Salazar was hired in June by the international law firm of WilmerHale to add Denver to its roster of more than a dozen offices in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. In addition to its numerous lobbying roles, the firm also advises companies in the energy sector.
As one Washington insider told The Colorado Observer, just because Salazar can’t work as a lobbyist, doesn’t mean he can’t deliver speeches or talk to reporters about issues that would benefit the law firm’s current clients, or act as an advertisement to recruit new clients.
When Salazar unleashed his comments earlier this month that the Keystone pipeline was a “win-win” project for U.S. energy and that fracking is a safe method to free oil and gas, it was during an energy conference in Houston, Texas, and directed toward an Associated Press reporter.
As far as we know, there were no congressmen, government bureaucrats, or any of his former employees from the Interior Department lurking about when the comments were made, so it doesn’t appear that any lobbying rules were broken.
However, the wide distribution of Salazar’s new and improved opinions was most certainly heard by his probably-soon-to-be-former-friends in the environmental lobby that called his comments a disservice to the cause, as well as decision-makers in Washington.
Some folks in the oil and gas industry are whispering that Salazar is now on the payroll of a major energy trade association, but when contacted by The Colorado Observer that organization issued a wobbly statement that neither confirmed nor denied their involvement.
Some media outlets have suggested that Salazar is simply promoting the causes of clients already on the WilmerHale roster.
A review of required lobbying disclosure forms filed with the U.S. Senate does show that WilmerHale lobbied on behalf of the Business Roundtable last year, an association of chief executive officers that promotes a sound and thriving economy, which has also endorsed the Keystone pipeline.
But the disclosure forms state that WilmerHale was only retained to lobby for the Business Roundtable on issues that relate to the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
However, WilmerHale’s website provides a list of “representative clients” that includes Statoil, which has an operation in the Alberta oil sands – the region from which the Keystone pipeline would be moving oil from Canada and through the U.S.
Salazar insists that he has always been neutral on the Keystone pipeline construction that has been stalled by the Obama administration for five years, but his words suggest otherwise.
“My concerns about the Keystone pipeline are in line with the Obama administration’s position on the issue,” Salazar said in a 2012 statement.
“I feel that the president acted responsibly in rejecting the initial proposal on the grounds of environmental issues. Until the guidelines for this project are significantly altered, the pipeline should not be constructed because of the potential risks it poses to the well being of U.S. citizens,” Salazar said.
Maybe Salazar’s change of heart comes from the independence of being able to speak as a free man, unburdened by his role as President Obama’s key advisor on natural resources.
“We know that from everything we’ve seen, there’s not a single case where hydraulic fracking has created an environmental problem for anyone,” Salazar now tells the Associated Press. “We need to make sure that story is told.”
We certainly welcome Salazar’s new and improved views. We just wish Salazar had the courage to express those opinions when he was the Interior secretary, and the process began for new regulations that threatens to strangle the natural gas industry’s fracking process, and that he had intervened in the Keystone debate when his voice truly mattered.