Salazar caught in an oil slick

The BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has taken its toll on birds and fish, wetlands and the coastal economy. A significant number of people also think it should mark the end of Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar’s career as a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.

We strongly disagree.

Ken Salazar is a hard-working man with a long history of protecting natural resources — as director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, as a member of the U.S. Senate and, for the past 18 months, as head of the Department of Interior.

He is not a Cabinet secretary prone to shoot-from-the-hip rhetoric that embarrasses the administration as, say, Janet Napolitano, head of the Homeland Security Department.

And, according to various news reports, he has been working tirelessly for most of the past six weeks, heading up the administration’s response to the BP disaster.

That is not to say Salazar has been infallible with respect to the oil spill. Far from it. Just this past weekend, his department apologized for issuing a report that made it appear as if a panel of independent engineering experts endorsed the administration’s call for a moratorium on deepwater oil drilling.

Perhaps his worst mistake was failing to act quickly after he took office to revamp and reform the Minerals Management Service, which overseas federal oil leasing and regulates offshore drilling.

The problems with Minerals Management have been widely publicized — regulators attending parties, accepting gifts and even sleeping with representatives of the oil companies they are supposed to oversee; rules ignored or relaxed for BP and other oil companies. Salazar pledged to clean up the agency, but had accomplished little in that regard prior to the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April.

For that failure, more than anything else, Salazar is pilloried in a lengthy article just published in Rolling Stone magazine. Calls for his resignation have come from various environmental groups and been published on the liberal-leaning Huffington Post, and others.

At least 100 scientists and environmentalists have signed a letter, reportedly sent to President Barack Obama earlier this month, which demands that Salazar be fired. “After nearly a year and a half on the job, Mr. Salazar has failed to develop and implement policies that adequately safeguard this nation’s natural treasures — either on land or at sea,” the letter alleges.

“Heads must roll” demands are to be expected — and are sometimes justified — in the wake of a massive disaster. Remember Michael Brown, who resigned as director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and Brown’s agency proved ill-prepared to respond?

But Salazar’s department hasn’t suffered the sort of neglect that Brown’s did before Katrina. Salazar has been an active, knowledgeable Interior secretary who was a hands-on administrator on a multitude of natural-resource issues long before the BP disaster.

It would have been great if the Interior Department could have stemmed the flow of oil in the Gulf shortly after the disaster struck. But it’s clear no one has a magic bullet for solving that problem. Even so, we need the best people available now, to deal with this disaster. Salazar fits that description.


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