Ken Salazar for Interior Sec.: Weak on scientific integrity, endangered species, global warming?


The Center for Biological Diversity says the record of Sen. Ken Salazar, President-elect Obama’s choice for Secretary of the Interior, “is especially weak in the arenas most important to the next Secretary: protecting scientific integrity, combating global warming, reforming energy development and protecting endangered species.”  A statement by the Western Watersheds Project also raises the question of what interests are being accommodated with this choice.

Center for Biological Diversity press release:

For Immediate Release, December 16, 2008
Contact: Kieran Suckling, Executive Director, (520) 275-5960

Ken Salazar a Disappointing Choice for Secretary of the Interior
Stronger, More Scientifically Based Leadership Needed to Fix Crisis-Plagued Agency

TUCSON, Ariz.— Strong rumors are circulating that President-elect Barack Obama has selected Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., as the new Secretary of the Interior. As the overseer of the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Minerals Management Services, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Endangered Species Act, the Secretary of the Interior is most important position in the protection of America’s lands, waters, and endangered species.

The Department of the Interior has been rocked by scandals during the Bush administration, most revolving around corrupt bureaucrats overturning and squelching agency scientists as they attempted to protect endangered species and natural resources from exploitation by developers, loggers, and oil and gas development. As recently as Monday, the Interior Department Inspector General issued another in a string of reports finding that top Department officials systematically violated laws and regulations in order to avoid or eliminate environmental protections.

“The Department of the Interior desperately needs a strong, forward looking, reform-minded Secretary,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. “Unfortunately, Ken Salazar is not that man. He endorsed George Bush’s selection of Gale Norton as Secretary of Interior, the very woman who initiated and encouraged the scandals that have rocked the Department of the Interior. Virtually all of the misdeeds described in yesterday’s Inspector General expose occurred during the tenure of the person Ken Salazar advocated for the position he is now seeking.”

While Salazar has promoted some good environmental actions and fought against off-road vehicle abuse, his overall record is decidedly mixed, and is especially weak in the arenas most important to the next Secretary of the Interior: protecting scientific integrity, combating global warming, reforming energy development and protecting endangered species. Salazar:

– voted against increased fuel efficiency standards for the U.S. automobile fleet
– voted to allow offshore oil drilling along Florida’s coast
– voted to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to ignore global warming impacts in their water development projects
– voted against the repeal of tax breaks for Exxon-Mobil
– voted to support subsidies to ranchers and other users of public forest and range lands
– threatened to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when its scientists determined the black-tailed prairie dog may be endangered
– fought efforts to increase protection for endangered species and the environment in the Farm Bill

“Obama’s choices for Secretary of Energy and his ‘Climate Change Czar’ indicate a determined willingness to take on global warming,” Suckling said. “That team will be weakened by the addition of Ken Salazar, who has fought against federal action on global warming, against higher fuel efficiency standards, and for increased oil drilling and oil subsidies.”

In addition to his misstep on Norton, Salazar endorsed the elevation of William Myers III to the federal bench. Myers was a former Interior Department Solicitor and lobbyist for the ranching industry. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called him ‘‘the most anti-environmental candidate for the bench I have seen in 37 years in the Senate.” Bizarrely, Salazar praised Myers’ “outstanding legal reasoning” regarding endangered species, Indian affairs, federal lands and water, timber, and fish and wildlife issues. The American Bar Association rated Myers as “not qualified.” Salazar later supported Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, introducing him at his Senate confirmation hearing.

“One of the most important jobs of the Secretary of the Interior is to help pick dozens of critically important political appointees to oversee America’s conservation system,” Suckling said. “His past misjudgments of Norton, Myers and Gonzales give us little confidence he will choose wisely in the future.”

The Western Watersheds Project also questions Salazar’s commitment to scientific integrity in Endangered Speices Act decisionmaking:

December 16, 2008
President-elect Barack Obama
Office of the President-elect
451 6th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004

Re: Scientist & Conservationist Opposition to Ken Salazar for Secretary of the Interior

Dear President-elect Obama:
We urge you not to appoint Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) as Interior Secretary. 
Over the past eight years, the Bush administration’s Interior Department has been riddled with corruption and sabotage of science.  Just yesterday, an Inspector General’s report indicated that political interference with Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing decisions went far beyond Julie MacDonald, who resigned amidst scandal last year. Indeed, many Interior officials, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s national director, Dale Hall, have been involved in decisions leading to denial of protection to at-risk species. 
The incoming Interior Secretary must address ESA enforcement with the highest dedication to science and to affording prompt protection to the many species in need in the U.S. Unfortunately, Sen. Salazar’s track record indicates, at best a lack of interest, and at worst, open hostility to ESA enforcement, particularly where species listings may impact agriculture.
While Colorado’s Attorney General, in 1999, Salazar threatened a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior if the Service listed the black-tailed prairie dog under the ESA. Rather than respecting the ESA’s requirement that listing decisions are to be based solely on science, Salazar and his co-authors complained about potential impacts “to its citizens” of protecting the prairie dog from extinction.  Earlier this month, even the Bush administration admitted that the black-tailed prairie dog might require ESA protection. 
While Colorado’s U.S. Senator, Salazar continued to be very clear that he would not back ESA listings if they affect agribusiness.  But many of the state’s vanishing species, including the black-tailed prairie dog, mountain plover, Gunnison’s prairie dog, lesser prairie-chicken, and others, are threatened by agribusiness.  Nationally, agriculture is a leading threat to imperiled plants and animals.  We fear that they would remain unprotected under an Interior Secretary Salazar, given his deference to agriculture and his lack of zeal on ESA enforcement.
If appointed as Interior Secretary, Salazar would be the final word on ESA listings. Approximately 300 species await listing as formal candidates or species proposed for listing.  The Bush administration has slowed the listing program down to a glacial pace, with only 8 species listings per year.  We are hoping the incoming Interior Secretary will tackle this backlog of endangered but as yet unprotected species by seriously ramping up the listing program.  We are not confident that Salazar possesses the will for this important work.
Also alarming is Salazar’s endorsement of fellow-Coloradan Gale Norton for Secretary of the Interior while he was Attorney General of Colorado.  Norton preceded him as Colorado’s Attorney General.  We believe that Norton seriously set back science, conservation, and regulation of harmful land uses more than any Interior Secretary preceding her, except James Watt, her mentor.  To be fair, it appears that the current Interior Secretary, Dirk Kempthorne, may have outdone Norton by overseeing the longest listing hiatus in ESA history, with more than two years passing between May 9, 2006 and May 15, 2008, during which time no U.S. species were listed.
Norton’s and Kempthorne’s abysmal legacies on ESA enforcement require an effective and enthusiastic incoming Interior Secretary who places science above politics and prioritizes federal environmental protections above accommodations for ecologically harmful industries.  Sen. Salazar does not meet either test.

Jon Marvel
Executive Director
Western Watersheds Project
POB 1770
Hailey, ID 83333
Nicole J. Rosmarino
Wildlife Program Director
WildEarth Guardians
1536 Wynkoop St. Suite 302
Denver, CO 80202
Kieran Suckling
Executive Director
Center for Biological Diversity
POB 710
Tucson AZ 85702

Western Watersheds Project Is A West Regional Conservation Organization Working To Protect And Restore Western Watersheds And Wildlife

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