Sen. Salazar Appointment Draws Mixed Reaction

Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) is apparently President-elect Barack Obama's choice to be Interior secretary, a position usually reserved for Westerners. But Salazar is getting mixed reviews at best from environmentalists and public lands advocates, while agricultural and mining interests are relieved.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Many environmentalists are upset about President-elect Barack Obama's presumed pick for secretary of the interior. Some media outlets citing anonymous sources are reporting that tomorrow Mr. Obama will nominate Ken Salazar, the Democratic senator from Colorado. Salazar is a rancher and he's considered a moderate on land use issues. As NPR's Jeff Brady reports, environmental groups were hoping the job would go to one of their own.

JEFF BRADY: The Department of the Interior oversees a half-billion acres of public land. That's nearly a fifth of all land in the U.S. And managing that public resource is a constant matter of debate between environmentalists and the agriculture, mining, and energy industries. Last week, more than 150 environmental groups signed a letter to President-elect Obama asking him to appoint Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona. They like Grijalva's ultra-green credentials and his outspoken criticism of the Bush administration and its Interior Department. So it was a surprise to people like Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity when Colorado Senator Ken Salazar's name emerged as the likely nominee.

NORRIS: Ken Salazar is very closely tied to ranching and mining and very traditional, old-time, Western extraction industries. And that's why I'm very concerned about this choice, because we were promised that an Obama presidency would bring change.

BRADY: Environmentalists were strong supporters of the president-elect during the recent campaign, but now those happiest with the apparent Salazar pick are folks in the mining and ranching industries, people who generally were supporters of Republican John McCain. Laura Skaer heads the Northwest Mining Association in Spokane, Washington, where she welcomed news of the Salazar pick.

NORRIS: I first heard it Monday and was excited because I have worked with him when I used to live in Colorado and know that he's fair and balanced.

BRADY: Skaer says Salazar doesn't always side with mining and petroleum interests. He opposed plans to drill for natural gas on the Roan Plateau in Colorado, and he's no fan of a Bush administration proposal to quickly draft regulations governing the speculative oil shale industry in the Rockies. Salazar does have close ties with agriculture, though. His family owns a ranch in Southern Colorado, and he's rarely seen without his cowboy hat and boots. Dan Keppen with the Family Farm Alliance says his members feel comfortable with Salazar.

NORRIS: So the people that I represent in rural communities are going to want somebody as secretary of interior that understands rural issues. And as I see it, it looks like many of the folks that might be opposing or upset about Senator Salazar's appointment are activist groups from urban areas.

BRADY: Those activist groups say an inspector general's report released yesterday bolsters their argument that big changes are needed at interior. The IG report concludes that a former Bush political appointee interfered in Endangered Species Act decisions, harming the Fish and Wildlife Service's reputation and morale at the agency. Sean Stevens with the group Oregon Wild says Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva would be a better choice.

NORRIS: We've seen his record that's very strong in regard to public lands and endangered species, and I don't think we have the same sort of confidence in Ken Salazar. Hopefully, we can grow to have that confidence.

BRADY: President-elect Obama is expected to name his next Cabinet appointment tomorrow morning. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Washington.

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Environmentalists Fuming Over Salazar's New Post

Barack Obama and Ken Salazar at an Obama campaign rally in September. i i

Then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) appear at a September campaign rally for Obama at the Colorado State Fair Grounds in Pueblo. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Barack Obama and Ken Salazar at an Obama campaign rally in September.

Then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) appear at a September campaign rally for Obama at the Colorado State Fair Grounds in Pueblo.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Obama's apparent pick to head the Department of the Interior has angered environmentalists who supported him during the election.

Citing anonymous sources, media outlets are reporting that Obama is close to announcing that Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar will be his nominee for Interior secretary.

Salazar is a rancher and considered a moderate Democrat. He is rarely seen without his trademark cowboy boots and hat. In public settings a favorite topic is economic development for rural America. Environmentalists were hoping instead for a loyal ally of the movement such as Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) or Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA).

Last week, more than 150 environmental groups signed a letter to Obama specifically backing Grijalva.

"We've seen his record — that's very strong in regard to public lands and endangered species," said Oregon Wild spokesman Sean Stevens. "And I don't think we have the same sort of confidence in Ken Salazar. Hopefully we can grow to have that confidence."

Adds Kieran Suckling of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity: "Ken Salazar is very closely tied to ranching and mining and very traditional, old-time, Western, extraction industries. We were promised that an Obama presidency would bring change."

Among those cheering the apparent Salazar nomination are the mining and agriculture industries, which generally backed Republican John McCain for president.

"I first heard it Monday and was excited because I have worked with him when I used to live in Colorado," said Laura Skaer, executive director of the Northwest Mining Association. "I know that he's fair and balanced."

The secretary of the Interior, perhaps more than any other Cabinet post, affects the lives of rural Americans, many of whom depend on natural resource development for their living.

"So the people I represent in rural communities are going to want somebody as secretary of the Interior that understands rural issues," said Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance.

"It looks like many of the folks that might be opposing or upset about Sen. Salazar's appointment are activist groups from urban areas," said Keppen.

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