He made a similar move regarding energy development offshore, calling for more research and public comment while denouncing the Bush administration's efforts to ram through a new five-year plan for the Outer Continental Shelf — one that spurned his own efforts as a senator to require the DOI to make greater provisions for offshore renewable-energy sources, including wind, wave and tidal power.

"In my view, it was a headlong rush of the worst kind," he said. "It was a process rigged to force various decisions based on bad information. It was a process tilted toward the usual energy players, while renewable-energy companies and the interests of American consumers and taxpayers were being overlooked."

Yet even while offering one rebuke after another to his predecessors and mocking their policy as "drill-drill-drill," Salazar was careful to offer an olive branch to the fossil-fuels crowd. "The oil and gas industry should not see the Obama administration as their enemy," he said, pledging that the industry "will have a seat at the table."

New Interior sheriff Ken Salazar with his deputy, Tom Strickland, announces a new ethics policy at the federal center in Lakewood.
New Interior sheriff Ken Salazar with his deputy, Tom Strickland, announces a new ethics policy at the federal center in Lakewood.
Economist Pete Morton contends that the Bush drilling boom, the biggest in twenty years, encouraged energy speculators and cheated taxpayers.
Economist Pete Morton contends that the Bush drilling boom, the biggest in twenty years, encouraged energy speculators and cheated taxpayers.


To read Inspector General Earl Devaney's reports, download them here and here. Read previous Westword stories about the Roan Plateau here.

In fact, several of Salazar's myriad press conferences seemed designed to reassure the usual energy players and alarm his green supporters. He affirmed an FWS decision to remove Endangered Species Act protection for gray wolves in the northern Rockies, calling the breed's resurgence "one of the great success stories" since the ESA's creation. And far from supporting a moratorium on offshore drilling, two weeks ago he flew to New Orleans to tour an offshore platform and personally oversee the first major Gulf of Mexico lease sale of the Obama era, which brought in $703 million in bids on prime sites off the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Such efforts to appease warring constituencies are characteristic of Salazar's earnest, let's-work-this-out centrism. His entire career has been a search for the elusive middle. In Colorado he served as a bridge between agricultural and development interests, as well as between some of the state's more rural, isolated areas, such as his own native San Luis Valley, and the halls of power. Yet he also injected himself in controversies that offered him little or no political capital — such as trying to mediate a decades-long dispute over community grazing rights on a private ranch, or using his power as attorney general to push for the release of documents related to the Columbine shootings that other law-enforcement agencies wanted to keep sealed. Throughout it all, he seemed driven less by ideology or fear of criticism than a kind of benign pragmatism.

In the Senate, his efforts to build coalitions across the aisle made him seem like a plodder, unable to shift gears with the political winds. Affability in high office is often suspect; when Obama tapped him as Interior Secretary, over more outspoken Bush critics and environmental darlings such as Arizona congressman Raúl Grijalva, the New York Times fretted that Salazar was too mild for the job. "He should surround himself with a core group of dedicated, quality people, and remember that being nice won't cut it," huffed one editorial.

So far, Salazar has been packing Interior with dedicated people — with lots of Colorado connections. In short order he named former Senate candidate Strickland, whom he'd served with on the board of Great Outdoors Colorado, as his chief of staff; Will Shafroth, former executive director of GOCO, as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and Chris Henderson, Denver mayor John Hickenlooper's top financial advisor, to oversee the DOI's $3 billion share of economic stimulus funds. During the confirmation process, Salazar had pledged that the DOI would be an agency that served all of America, not just the West, but he seemed bent on transforming its leadership into a Colorado cabal.

The rapid enlistment of homies may suggest that Salazar isn't yet comfortable in his new, global role. Despite the flurry of public appearances during his first few weeks on the job, he seemed most at ease during trips back home, visiting the Great Sand Dunes or joking with local officials on a tour of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, many of whom he'd worked with years ago to get the former chemical weapons plant cleaned up. But tapping Strickland and Shafroth also signal that he's serious about using the Great Outdoors Colorado model for revitalizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has been underfunded by Congress almost every year since it was created in 1964.

It's not clear yet how he plans to pay for a massive upgrade in conservation projects — "We're at the conceptual level at this stage," he cautioned in a recent interview. But the likely mechanism will be dedicating a portion of royalty revenues to such projects. An eighth of the revenues from some of the tracts in the recent offshore-lease sale in New Orleans will be set aside for state parks acquisition and other conservation measures, the first time federal royalty funds have been earmarked in that fashion.

Funneling cash to conservation, though, hasn't allayed skepticism about the Secretary's other initiatives — especially his push for a New Energy Frontier. Oil and gas representatives, such as Smith at IPAMS, wonder whether a "double standard" will be applied that opens up public lands for renewable-energy producers while barring others. Environmentalists fear the impact of additional roads and transmission lines on wildlife habitat and migration corridors that have already been badly fragmented by the drilling boom; they point to the not-so-green effects of an army of wind towers in northern California that have killed thousands of birds. And other analysts question the technical feasibility of the whole idea.

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Despite having only recently been appointed Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar has ruffled a lot of feathers, such as recently announcing an end to Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s oyster farm lease for environmental concerns. It is not an extremely popular decision, especially since millions of dollars is on the line. But I am glad environmental concerns trumps money, and building offshore wind farm will open doors to innovative types of renewable energy. However, I hope more studies and research are infused into this to determine the severity (if any) of negative impacts on the environment.