News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Ken Salazar to Step Down As Interior Secretary

Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar | Photo: Tulane Public Relations/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The man behind a significant portion of the Obama administration's renewable energy policy will be returning to private life: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has announced that he'll be stepping down from his Cabinet-level position in March. Salazar, a native of Colorado, has helped push the massive development of renewable energy facilities on public lands managed by his Department.

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Under Secretary Salazar, the Interior Department spearheaded the massive Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States (PEIS), which provides a blueprint for developing solar power generation on as much as 20 million acres of public lands in the Southwest in 17 Solar Energy Zones and about 19 million acres of "variance lands."

Salazar's proposed successor as Interior Secretary has not been named yet, but speculation about who might fill his cowboy boots has been rife for some months. Most short lists have mentioned Salazar's right-hand man David Hayes as a likely candidate. Hayes has been the main force at Interior behind the push for renewable energy development on public lands, and his taking the helm at Interior would likely mean the Department stays the course on policies that have led to the commissioning of more than 10,000 megawatts' worth of solar and wind development in recent years -- though most of that capacity remains unbuilt.

Environmentalists have criticized Salazar's less-than-perfectly-green record on fossil fuel exploitation on public lands and offshore. Salazar's role in delisting of gray wolves and other Endangered Species Act-related issues have also earned him detractors. Some of those green groups are proposing another choice: Arizona Democratic Representative Raúl Grijalva. Grijalva, who has one of the greenest voting records in Congress, was on the shortlist for the Interior nod in 2008, but -- rumor has it -- was turned aside due to his insistence on proper monitoring of offshore drilling, a position the Obama administration found too stringent in the months before the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Today, the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity released a letter to the President supporting Grijalva for Interior. That letter read, in part;

The over 200 groups signed below, with our combined membership of many millions of individuals, request that you nominate Congressman Raúl Grijalva as the 51st Secretary of the Interior for your second term. As ranking member and former chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Congressman Grijalva has been a tireless and effective leader on conservation and land management issues faced by the Department of the Interior. Congressman Grijalva has unparalleled expertise with Native Americans and Indian tribes, a strong understanding of border issues, a well-established and pragmatic conservation ethic, and valuable experience with a wide variety of funding challenges. We strongly believe Congressman Grijalva exemplifies the modern and forward thinking vision of the Department of the Interior

As for Salazar, the outgoing and occasionally pugnacious Secretary hasn't said much about his future plans. He has mentioned wanting to devote more time to his family as he leaves Interior. In Salazar's case, that may be the literal truth rather than the usual positive spin: he and his wife Hope share care-taking duties for their granddaughter, who suffers from autism. That's no doubt much more difficult when you've got a Cabinet-level position eating up your quality time.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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I wonder if Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is going to answer the letter (below) sent by to him by Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) . Or will the Dept. of Interior dodge this problem for years like Lance Armstrong did with his cover-up? That would not be a good idea because it is going to come out anyway. There are just too many eyes on this highly endangered species. For those that do not know, over 200 hundred of whooping cranes have gone missing in recent years after their 2500 mile migration route was invaded by thousands of wind turbines. Prior to 2006 (for decades) their numbers increased at rate about 4.5% per year. But since 2006-2007 their population has been decreasing at a rate of about 10 percent per year. Last year the USFWS could only count 193 so their survey methodology was changed so that population numbers could then be estimated or exaggerated.

January 4, 2013
Ken Salazar,
Secretary U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240

Dear Mr. Salazar: The annual winter census of endangered Whooping Cranes has been an event looked forward to by the conservation community since Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937. The aerial total population count, done for the past 61 years, was changed by USFWS in the winter of 2011-2012 to a survey method using hierarchical distance sampling. As stated by USFWS, the new sampling method is only 85% accurate.The Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) believes the total population count is much preferred to the current estimate that has little value. Estimates are not satisfactory when dealing with this bird which is considered a flagship among all endangered species. Only about 300 birds exist in this wild population and it is still possible to do a total population count. Potentially, a dozen or even thirty five birds could die or disappear and the sampling technique would not detect the change. The new counting system only indicates that some low number of cranes are still present. It does not tell us whether this endangered population has increased or decreased from the previous year. The refuge’s 2011-2012 estimate of 254 plus or minus 62 Whooping Cranes does not serve any management purposes, nor does it provide worthwhile public information. This degree of uncertainty for a critically endangered species is simply unacceptable.
The Whooping Crane is an internationally endangered species, and as such the concerns of the international community should be considered. Because of this high level of interest, and the endangered status of the species, accurate total population counts should be continued annually.
The WCCA sees the total count census as the most practical, economical and having the most scientific value. Three aerial counts between December 1 and 20 would provide a good count of the total number of birds arriving in the winter population. Flights every two weeks, after the December 20 count, until the cranes return north, would provide estimates of population losses during the winter. We note that as of December 27, 2012, the Aransas Refuge new website still does not report any crane numbers from approximately seven flights conducted this fall. We urge you to resume regular aerial total population counts as soon as possible. The WCCA looks forward to continuing its support of the international Whooping Crane conservation efforts, as we have done for the past fifty years.
Lorne Scott,
Whooping Crane Conservation Association
cc: Dan Ashe, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Hon. Peter Kent, Wendy Brown, Dr. Grant Harris, Aaron Archibecque, Sonny Perez, Dr. Wade Harrell, LeeAnn Linam, Dr. Rich Beilfuss, Dr. George Archibald, Joseph Duff, Dr. Mark Bidwell, Dr. Sandy Black, Ron Outen, Marty Folk, Alan Strand, Dr. Felipe Chavez-Ramirez, Dr. John French,Larry Schweiger, Wade Luzny