by Will Greene
With Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stepping down in March, over 200 environmental groups have sent a letter to President Obama urging the nomination of Rep. Raul Grijalva to lead the federal agency that manages public lands, resources, and Native American issues.
A Grijalva pick could indicate an altered energy course for President Obama, who in 2008 ran as a candidate skeptical of new oil and gas drilling, but has since adopted an “all of the above energy strategy” touting in the 2nd presidential debate that under his administration "we’ve built enough pipelines to wrap around the Earth once.”
If “all of the above” sounds familiar, that’s because it is the exact same position taken in the Republican national platform. The difference is the President actually means it, while Republicans tend to fight all support for renewable energy, while backing subsidies for oil, gas, and coal exploitation.
Secretary Salazar leads an Interior Department that has aggressively exploited fossil fuels, with American oil production at an eight year high. Salazar, under the direction of Obama, has also been a friend of the coal industry, opening 7,400 acres of public lands for coal mining in a 2011 decision that was termed “disgraceful” by climate movement-leader Bill McKibben. The Interior Department has also protected a record-low amount of public lands compared to the last four administrations. Far less land has been protected under President Obama than during the Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, and G.W. Bush administrations.
It’s not all bad news under Salazar and Obama’s leadership. More than 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy has been permitted on public lands, far more than all previous administrations combined. But for citizens concerned about climate change, Interior Department policy has been a disappointment during Salazar’s tenure.
That is why the nomination of environmental champion Rep. Grijalva would be a welcome sign that the administration intends to live up to the words spoken by President Obama at his first inaugural. “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
Given President Obama's “fossil fuel boasting” in the recent presidential debates, and his policy of “drill baby drill” during Salazar's tenure, it seems unlikely a climate leader of the caliber of Rep. Grijalva will get the nod.
The author is engaged in a multi-week project promoting climate action, and will be blogging from the road. You can follow the project and get involved at greenevoteproject.org.