Senator Salazar's day of reckoning

At 7:30 am Mountain Time on January 15, U.S. Senator Ken Salazar will sit down with his colleagues on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and seek their approval in his quest to become the next Secretary of the Interior.

Expect our man to be grilled by Big Oil stooges eager to drill the hell out of Alaska and tree-huggers keen on preserving fragile public lands such as the Roan Plateau, subject of my 2004 feature "Raiding the Roan."

Expect, too, some tough questions about how Salazar plans to implement the President-elect's vow to "clean up" the mess at Interior -- from fraudulent science, pissed-off Indians and sweetheart deals crafted by former energy lobbyists ("Grazin' Hell") to the failure to collect billions in oil royalties ("Fighting Mad") and assorted sex, drug and payola scandals ("Crossing Over").

But Salazar goes into the inquisition with one significant coup under his belt. On Sunday, January 11, the Senate pushed ahead legislation that's been a priority of Salazar's for some time: an effort to designate more than two million acres across the West as wilderness, including Rocky Mountain National Park. As explained in a blog written way back in 2007, "Ending a 33-year Stalemate," this particular bit of legislative business has been left hanging, thanks to partisan bickering, practically since the 1964 passage of the Wilderness Act. For more on why a national park like Rocky Mountain needs such a designation, see my feature "Loved to Death."

That the new Congress is making quick progress on a much-delayed and needed piece of law is encouraging. Let's hope it doesn't take another 35 years to fix the agency Salazar is now expected to command.

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