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.
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.