Uneasy hangs the cowboy-hatted head of the man in charge of one-fifth of the land mass in the United States. The strain of running the Department of the Interior seems to be catching up with Ken Salazar, who offered to "punch out" a reporter last month in response to a question about Interior's scandal-riddled program for managing wild horses.
Salazar later apologized to Dave Philipps of the Colorado Springs Gazette, whose piece for ProPublica about how thousands of supposedly "protected" horses sold by the Bureau of Land Management have disappeared (and were probably sent to slaughterhouses) has triggered a federal investigation. But persistent criticism of the Interior Secretary from the energy industry on one side and environmentalists on the other has fueled speculation that he might be one of the Cabinet members to hit the road when the Obama administration reshuffles the talent for its second term.
Salazar has responded (in this Denver Post article and elsewhere) that he digs his job and may well hang around, despite the usual euphemistic "family pressures" to head back to the ranch. By his own accounting, he's made significant progress in cleaning up the ethical quagmires at Interior left over from the Bush years , revamping offshore drilling regs in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and so on, but there's still plenty to be done.
Still, if Salazar is going to continue to ride herd over one of the most ornery and confusing bureaucracies ever devised, he's going to have to find more productive ways of channeling his anger and frustration. The next time he's feeling punchy, here are some more deserving candidates to consider for a possible jab-jab-cross combination.
5. Tom Davis.Philipps's story focuses on Davis, a Colorado livestock hauler who's purchased at least 1,700 wild horses from BLM since 2009 for as little as $10 a head -- and declined to provide any proof of their current whereabouts. Even more embarrassing, from Salazar's perspective, is that Davis operates out of the Secretary's beloved San Luis Valley; they're practically neighbors. If Davis can't establish that his purchases found good homes, maybe Salazar should see if Davis, an advocate of slaughterhouses, wants to swap some horsemeat for a knuckle sandwich.
4. Rex Tillerson. ExxonMobile CEO Tillerson isn't exactly a climate-change denier, like many of his colleagues in the fossil-fuel business. No, he's a climate-change minimizer, whose upbeat remarks at a Council on Foreign Relations gathering earlier this year assured us all that future upheavals in weather and food production present an "engineering problem" with "engineering solutions," and that mankind will simply adapt to...whatever's left. If Salazar really wants to see his agency lead the way in developing renewable-energy projects and slowing the pace of global warming, he could start by bitch-slapping some sustainable sense into Tillerson.
3. Cory Gardner. Well-lubricated by campaign donations from the oil and gas industry, Colorado's most pugnacious congressperson has been on Salazar's case for months, decrying the government red tape that supposedly hinders bold entrepreneurs (cf. Rex Tillerson, above) from drilling with abandon on public lands. He's also fuming over federal forest management and wild fires. (Here's a video of him unloading on some Salazar minions on that issue.) This feud might best be settled by a cage match in a blazing wilderness area, or maybe in a parking lot surrounded by a moat of smoldering crude oil.
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2. Doug Lamborn.Like Gardner, Representative Doug Lamborn frequently champions energy interests -- even if he's a bit underpaid for his hard work. But his position chairing a key subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee, not to mention his gung-ho views on opening up the West to oil shale development, make him a particularly formidable opponent for Battlin' Ken, who's urged a go-slow approach on oil shale. Mounds of studies argue against further subsidies for a technology that demands vast amounts of water, has dire environmental risks and has never been proven commercially viable -- but if facts can't sway Lamborn, maybe an ass-whupping will.
1. Raul Grijalva. Once Salazar has cemented his rep among the tree-huggers by kayoing Davis, Tillerson, Gardner and Lamborn, he can prove he's really a centrist by inviting Grijalva to a smackdown. The affable Arizona congressman and conservationist was many enviros' first choice for Interior four years ago, and some of them are still lobbying for him to replace Salazar, now that the job seems to be up for grabs. A guy like Grijalva is likely to impose all kinds of protections on public lands, even at the risk of being labeled an obstructionist by energy interests, and might even end the brutal BLM roundups of wild mustangs. That kind of dangerous thinking is just the thing to start Salazar swinging. Keep your mitts up and your head down, Raul. From our archives: "The zen of Ken: Ken Salazars wants windmills in the ocean, but first he'll have to save the Interior Department.