As the Obama administration sets off to begin its second term in office, they’ll have to start off without the services of a key inside member of the energy department in years past.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has decided to step away from his position and return back to Colorado in March. He served as Senator of the Centennial State prior to his 8 years on Capitol Hill and it is believed he will return to politics in some capacity there. During his 8 years in Washington DC, he served the first 4 years as a member of the US Senate and the last 4 as head of the Interior Department, after being nominated by President Obama in 2008.
Much like President Obama in 2008, Salazar was given a full plate of issues and responsibilities immediately following his nomination. He created distance from George W. Bush’s ‘drill-friendly’ initiatives with a more balanced policy; Salazar focused his attention on greater drilling safety standards and tighter sector regulations coupled with federally protecting certain public lands from being exhausted of their resources. While this policy was contested by big business and environmentalists for opposite reasons, Salazar was relatively successful in middling the criticism of many as he implemented his direction for the energy department.
Despite his ability to find compromise in many of his policies, arguably two of Salazar’s largest imprints on American policy came from more controversial means, being the BP oil spill in 2010 and his unyielding advocacy for renewable energies. Taking the lead in the BP litigation, Salazar required an overhaul of the country’s offshore oil industry regulations and led a moratorium on all offshore drilling for 6 months in the Gulf of Mexico after the initial spill. In his own words, Salazar commented on the BP crisis in his exit statement last week, “We have undertaken the most aggressive oil and gas safety and reform agenda in US 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.”
In terms of his renewable energy efforts, the full ramifications may not be realized for years to come. Although he did not fully protect some regions of the Rocky Mountain West as hoped by many pundits and policymakers, he did protect hundreds of thousands of federally-owned acres of land for the sole purpose of developing renewable energies throughout the country. Specifically, he authorized over 10,000 megawatts of solar, wind, and other renewable production on public lands in his term, more than all previous administrations’ combined.
For example, he approved renewable energy facilities on more than 46,000 acres (or 72 square miles) of US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in California, sifting through plenty of red tape to do so. As of today, only one of the projects on this land is completed in that territory, but five more are under construction to be completed in the years ahead. Salazar adds, “[t]he largest solar energy projects in the world are under construction on America’s public lands in the west…I am proud of the renewable energy revolution that we have launched.”
Four successors for Salazar have emerged since his announcement to vacate the position, including David Hayes, a deputy already within the Interior Department, former New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter and former Senator Byron Dorgan from North Dakota.