Interior Secretary Ken Salazar To Leave Post – A Look Back At His Legacy

Written by Jessica Goad, Tom Kenworthy, Christy Goldfuss, and Michael Conathan

News broke yesterday that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will be stepping down in March and returning home to Colorado.

Salazar, who joined the cabinet after serving as a U.S. Senator (D-CO) and Colorado Attorney General, will be remembered for founding a renewable energy program for public lands and waters, overhauling offshore oil and gas drilling regulation in the aftermath of one of the worst environmental disasters in our nation’s history, and championing community-based land conservation.

Salazar began his term as Interior Secretary by cleaning up the mess left by the George W. Bush administration, famously calling himself the “new sheriff in town” and vowing to reform a scandal-plagued oil and gas leasing process.  Understanding that there are more values to lands and oceans than just oil and gas drilling, he implemented critical reforms to both onshore and offshore leasing, while at the same time overseeing a resurgence in production—in fact, there was more oil and gas production from public lands and waters every year between 2009 and 2011 than between 2006 and 2008.

Salazar’s efforts to reform offshore drilling were accelerated following the calamitous BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.  In conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, he oversaw response efforts in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. And despite intense criticism from industry, Salazar issued and maintained a moratorium on new deepwater oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico until reforms could be put in place.  These included bifurcating the agency that had overseen offshore drilling leasing and operations, the Minerals Management Service, into two new agencies with separate and distinct responsibility for permitting and enforcement.

Onshore, Salazar prioritized the protection of public lands, by establishing seven new national parks and 10 new national wildlife refuges.  In addition to these types of designations, he championed a new model of conservation by focusing on partnerships with private landowners, states, and other entities to protect large swaths of land.

For example, he proposed a conservation area in Montana’s Crown of the Continent that contains only about 40 percent protected public lands, with the rest linked by conservation easements and the efforts of private landowners.  This is a“conservation agenda for the 21st century,” as Salazar stated, because it:

…turns the conventional wisdom about the federal government’s role in conservation on its head.  Rather than dictate policies or conservation strategies from Washington, it supports grassroots, locally driven initiatives.

Similar conservation successes were achieved in Florida’s Everglades, Kansas’ Flint Hills, and North and South Dakota’s prairie grasslands.

Yet even with the tremendous gains in regulatory oversight and land protection, Salazar’s most enduring legacy will likely be his fight to make a place for renewable energy development on public lands and waters.

More than 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy have been permitted on public lands in the last four years, far more than all previous administrations combined.  The Department also completed a landscape-scale overview of solar energy development on public lands, a paradigm shift for the way these places are managed for energy development.

And in the ocean, Salazar also made great progress helping the U.S. catch up to Europe and other parts of the world in development of offshore wind energy. He implemented a program known as “Smart from the Start,” which has resulted in the first-ever offshore wind leases in federal waters, and issued the final permits that will allow Cape Wind, LLC to begin construction on America’s first offshore wind farm.

Still, when it comes to public lands and waters, a number of fights remain.  Salazar took the important step of issuing a Secretarial Order to address the impacts of climate change on natural and cultural resources, but challenges persist in reconciling this threat with the significant amounts of fossil fuels derived from public lands and waters.

Additionally, the incoming secretary will have a number of controversial issues to address, including the future of offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, coal production on public lands, updated hydraulic fracturing rules, and controversial onshore oil and gas projects.

Arctic Ocean drilling in particular  has drawn a great deal of controversy, especially after the recent grounding of Shell’s Arctic drilling rig near Kodiak, Alaska – the latest in a long list of mishaps and opposition to offshore drilling in the remote and untested region.  Salazar himself called the events “troubling” when he announced a high-level review 60-day review of Arctic Ocean drilling last week.

Secretary Ken Salazar’s legacy of responsible oil and gas development, advancement of renewable energy resources, and community engagement in conservation has laid the groundwork for a significant and durable land and ocean legacy that President Obama can achieve before leaving office.

This post was originally published by Climate Progress.


Related Stories:

Success! West Coast’s First Marine Wilderness Secured

U.S. Government Sells Wild Horses to ‘Kill Buyer’ for Slaughter

Success! 838,000 Acres to be Protected for Jaguars!


Photo: US Department of Labor/Wikimedia Commons


Kristen Lowry
Kristen Lowry4 years ago

Tell Mr. Salazar not to let the door hit him in the ass on his way out!

paul m.
paul m4 years ago


Teckla Wattman
Teckla Wattman5 years ago

Good riddance! Too bad it didn't happen sooner. Wolves and wildhorses have suffered tremendously because of that man's inexcusable decision making. I can only hope, and pray that the next person to take his place has a kind, caring heart and listens to the people.

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

"they both cannot get over their Western prejudice that wild animals are a problem, and people from elsewhere who have greater sympathy for animals are fools"..........Mark Stephen, I am a "Westerner" in Puget Sound and can't get much farther west without falling into the Pacific Ocean. I definitely am ANTI-wolf slaughter, and think Salazar was the biggest mistake of Obama's Administration. I have always been an Obama supporter, and I ran out of fingers trying to count the petitions I've signed to get rid of Salazar. He and his ilk should be put on a very leaky barge along with GWB, Cheney, Pelosi and sent towards Behjing, or maybe Japan? Why not send them some garbage from this side of the pond in exchange for their tsunami debri? .

Tara B.
Tara B5 years ago

Ken Salazar has supported shoot-on-sight wolf "management" and other kill first, anti-wildlife, government policies. Why this pro-Salazar article from Care2? I'm completely disgusted by this.

Mark Stephen Caponigro
Mark Caponigro5 years ago

Salazar has taken us backwards, with regard to animal protection. It is strange, how Democrats are the only potential option for animal-lovers, but they remain far from ideal. Salazar of Colorado is like Senator Jon Tester of Montana, another Democratic enemy of wolves: they both cannot get over their Western prejudice that wild animals are a problem, and people from elsewhere who have greater sympathy for animals are fools.

Janet K.
Janet K5 years ago

I'm glad he's leaving! I think he should have been fired ages ago!

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper5 years ago


Donna B.
Donna B5 years ago

What? Really? Isn't he the same "man" who did SO little for the wild-life?!?! Wanting the wild mustangs to be rounded up and slaughtered? I say let the door hit your ass on the way out!!

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

"Sounds like no matter how many things you agree with that someone does, they're always going to do something that you don't, simply because there are so many issues out there. Take Obama on gun grabbing, for instance. I like most of the rest of what he's done", now, now...............nobody's taking your Ak-47, Dude. Gun control has absolutely NOTHING to do with this topic, and truth is, Salazar has done almost NOTHING positive. He's been a travesty since the day he took office. If he participated in any way to any legislation that was PRO-environment, you can bet your britches he didn't initiate it and Obama signed it. He's Obama's biggest failure as a President, and I am an Obama supporter..