Salazar to get DOI

As Obama rolled out his environmental team yesterday, he left one key position empty: the Interior Secretary, whose responsibilities will include overhauling the oil and gas sectors and putting the Endangered Species Act back on an even keel. Now, though, the Denver Post is reporting that senior Democrats say the Department of the Interior is all but certain to go to Colorado’s senior senator, Ken Salazar, who has accepted the post pending a background check.

Assuming Salazar doesn’t have any skeletons in his closet, he’ll make a decent DOI chief. He made his name as a lawyer specializing in water rights and environmental issues, and in the early 1990s ran Colorado’s Natural Resources Department, where he pioneered a scheme to use lottery revenues for land preservation. Later, as the state’s attorney general, Salazar sued several oil and mining companies to force them to clean up polluted mining sites, and campaigned against efforts to divert rural water supplies. These days, he sits on the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where he's been a vocal critic of Bush’s efforts to develop the oil-shale extraction industry and an equally vocal supporter of clean-energy technologies.

It’s not all good news: Salazar is a Blue Dog moderate, and occasionally hits a bum note when it comes to environmental policy. In Colorado, he opposed bans on the use of cyanide in gold mines; more troublingly, during his tenure at the Natural Resources Department, Salazar was involved in the firing of a whistleblower who warned that hazardous waste was leaking into the state’s groundwater from improperly sealed oil wells. On the national stage, Salazar sought to prevent the EPA from considering emissions arising from land-use changes in calculating the environmental toll of biofuels, and supported new rules allowing people to carry concealed firearms in national parks.

Salazar’s slightly patchy environmental record will disappoint those greens who’d been hoping to see Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva - a genuine liberal who made his name fighting the good fight on everything from uranium mining to environmental border issues - installed at the DOI. In fact, though, we should probably be breathing a huge sigh of relief. Salazar’s main rival for the Interior gig reportedly wasn’t Grijalva but rather California Rep. Mike Thompson, a huntin’, fishin’ Blue Dog who backed Bush’s awful “Healthy Forests” initiative, voted against limiting construction in the Tongass National Forest and even sought to allow American hunters to import the mounted heads of polar bears. Salazar may not be the greenest guy around, but he’s certainly the lesser of two evils.