Should Salazar resign?


In the wake of a major disaster like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, resignations like the recent departure of Elizabeth Birnbaum, director of the Minerals Management Service, are a de facto form of political appeasement.  

Environmental groups aren’t satisfied with Birnbaum’s head, though, and a group of them, led by WildEarth Guardians, are circulating a letter (and getting at least a bit of press out of it) calling for the resignation of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

 The letter (full text posted here) uses the spill as a jumping off point to air long-held grievances against Salazar and Interior, including the removal of wolves from the endangered species list, continued coal leasing in the West, and a failure to institute promised reforms to the department.

The leading green groups calling for a resignation have never been Salazar fans. When Interior nominations were first being floated, most of them preferred Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz), who has been a more outspoken proponent for traditional enviro causes like mining reform and land protection. 

Like many of Obama’s cabinet picks, Salazar hugs the center-left. Charged with a department that for eight years was little more than a rubber-stamping agency for the energy industry, the current secretary had a big uphill battle to institute quick change. And, unfortunately, he seems to lack the temperament to install the rapid culture shift many Interior agencies need, and that he promised when he took the office.

Despite the fact that he's more of a traditional politician than an intrinsic reformer, though, Salazar has made some sensible moves – post-spill, he immediately proposed necessary changes meant to curb MMS misdeeds. He’s also blocked drilling in sensitive lands in Utah, and earlier this year pushed through important reforms in oil and gas policy.

Unless the Obama administration starts taking real flack for the Gulf spill and needs another fall guy, Salazar’s job seems safe enough. Enviros may be disappointed in this moderate, get-along-with-everyone Colorado cowboy, but I doubt they’ll be able to capitalize on Deepwater Horizon as a means of getting a greener Interior secretary.

 Photo: Salazar visits the Gulf and consults with commander 8th Coast Guard District Rear Admiral Mary Landry and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Courtesy Tami A. Heilemann -- US Department of the Interior