Groups begin call for ouster of interior secretary Salazar

More than 100 scientists and environmental groups have signed a letter asking President Barack Obama to request the resignation of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, while other leading conservation organizations continue to strongly support Salazar.

WildEarth Guardians, which circulated the letter, contended in a news release Monday that the actions of the former U.S. senator from Colorado haven’t matched his tough talk about being “the new sheriff in town.”

“Mr. Salazar’s failure to clean up Interior is why we’re seeing the mess in the Gulf,” Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians said in the release. “We need serious mopping up within this department, and it should start with Salazar leaving.”

But Steve Torbit, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, said he thinks Salazar has “done more in a balanced way” than any Interior secretary in at least a quarter century.

He said he understands that some organizations think Salazar might not be addressing their particular area of emphasis as they would like. But he added, “You wonder if their vision is clear, if they really can see everything that’s going on and are connected to what’s going on.”

The WildEarth Guardians letter says the Obama administration has failed to clean up the scandal-plagued Minerals Management Service it inherited when Obama took office, and that the agency has continued to show a “reckless lack of oversight” of the oil and gas industry. The letter also criticized Interior’s granting of at least 27 exemptions from federal laws for drillers in the Gulf in the aftermath of the explosion of the BP well there.

The letter says Salazar’s talk of needing to confront a climate change crisis is belied by his granting of major coal leases in Wyoming and Montana and disputing the crisis in court filings. It also questions his delaying endangered species protection for 300 species and agreeing to remove protections for gray wolves in much of the Northern Rockies.

Some of those who signed the letter had opposed Salazar’s appointment to the job.

“I don’t think that Ken Salazar has ever been an environmental reformer and we think that President Obama should have made a better choice back in 2009,” Rosmarino said in an interview.

Many of those signing the letter represent smaller, more regional conservation groups. Some, such as the Wolf Recovery Foundation, promote predator species, while several advocate on behalf of wild horses, which Interior manages.

Steve Smith, assistant regional director of the Wilderness Society, said calls for Salazar’s resignation serve as a distraction to the work being done by public officials at a critical time.

“When talking about Ken Salazar in particular, this kind of distraction goes to the level of ridiculous,” he said.

He said Salazar brings “fairness and inclusiveness and bipartisanship” that is badly needed at a time of anger and divisiveness in politics.

Smith said he also is frustrated by the Gulf spill and by public land damage from oil and gas development, and his group will keep pushing Salazar for better protections.

Nevertheless, “We just need to find affirmative approaches for dealing with that rather than hunting for scapegoats,” he said.

Rosmarino said Salazar’s job isn’t to balance divergent interests, but to enforce environmental laws.

In a written response to the WildEarth Guardians letter, Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said, “The Secretary is devoting 100 percent of his time to the fight to protect the Gulf Coast from BP’s oil spill and will not rest until the leak is stopped, the affected communities are made whole, and the Gulf Coast is restored.”

The Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States declined to comment on the letter. The group expressed some support for Salazar upon his appointment but since has criticized changes he has implemented regarding oil and gas development on public lands.


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