PEER: Time for a new Interior secretary

From Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER:

Dear Alan:

This week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar apologized to a reporter he had threatened to “punch out” for asking him pointed questions about the scandal-plagued wild horse program. His frustration may be understandable, as the wild horse program is one in a corral-full of knotty problems that Interior has not resolved.  In fact, Salazar’s tenure at Interior has been one fiasco followed by another.

One of his first major decisions was to embrace the Bush “Drill, Baby, Drill” offshore oil program. Then the BP Gulf spill happened.  Salazar’s first reaction was to scapegoat his ownMMS Director who had been told to stay away from the oil issues and concentrate on alternative energy. Next, he broke up MMS in ways that kept the same pro-development biases in place.

Even today, Interior rushed approvals for Shell to enter Arctic waters without doing basic safety checks and still relying on industry self-certification.  Serious environmental concerns are still being suppressed. Agency approvals were given despite the fact that spill response capacity in the Arctic remains a big unknown.

Salazar is often mistaken for the Secretary of Energy but not just for pushing oil and gas.  His zealous pursuit of an “all of the above” energy approach appears to have left no resource un-bruised –

One central problem is that Salazar thinks he is entitled to cut deals with public resources like they are his to bargain away. Consider two recent Salazar forays into blatantly political deal-making at the expense of Interior’s resources –

  • He intervened to undermine a Park Service decision to deny a permit for a professional bike race that would close down part of the Colorado National Monument.  Despite the fact that the Park Service had rejected the permit three times, Salazar met privately with proponents to lay out a plan to do a new assessment, later saying the parks “need to be better neighbors.”

In his press conference on Wednesday, President Obama made it clear that the environment (at least climate change) would not be a second term priority. If he does not plan to spend political capital on the environment, at least his administration should not make matters worse.  It does not seem too much to ask that for the second term he appoint someone who actually understands Interior’s mission and will follow the law.

So despite the reelection, some regime change is definitely in order.  Help us bring it about.

Jeff Ruch
Executive Director

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