The name game


Enviros are dreaming – not of a white Christmas (which seems unlikely around most of the West, given ongoing drought) but of a greener White House. A president's re-election often creates an exodus of Cabinet secretaries, as some decide to leave for other opportunities and others are asked to step down.

Hencewith, some outright speculation about who might leave, and who might replace them.

The first possibility for an enviro dream team would be the lefty, conservation-leaning Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) as secretary of interior to replace centrist Ken Salazar, who's anticipated to step down from his post as one of the top public-lands officials.

Currently Grijalva is ranking member of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, and a leading Dem on the House Natural Resources Committee. He introduced the bill that created the National Landscape Conservation System, led efforts to improve oversight of offshore drilling, and has pushed for mining law reform. The League of Conservation Voters, Americans for Democratic Action, and other progressive groups give him perfect scores.

A coalition of about 240 conservation, Hispanic, recreation, labor, business and women’s groups just sent Obama a letter urging Grijalva's nomination. Selection of the next interior secretary, according to the letter, is

… an important moment to place a renewed emphasis and urgency on some of the most critical issues of our age, including climate change, the protection of endangered species and preservation of water and wild lands. We strongly believe Congressman Grijalva exemplifies the modern and forward-thinking vision of the Department of the Interior.

Kierán Suckling, the outspoken director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release: “Congressman Grijalva’s a visionary leader with the courage and practical skills to solve the long list of pressing environmental issues we face. There’s no better person for interior secretary than Mr. Grijalva.”

But what are the odds of him actually being picked? Ray Ring, HCN senior editor and a astute observer of Western politics for many decades, says "I still think Raul Grijalva probably won't be named interior secretary, just like I thought four years ago when his name was on the short list … he's not in the radical center on any issues I'm aware of, so if he were named, it would set off a new rebellion against the feds."

The obvious successor might appear to be Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes. But since the interior secretary mostly oversees Western lands, the job often goes to a former elected official who's a Westerner – and that probably means that former Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and former Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal are all more likely than Hayes. Freudenthal is on the Board of Directors of Arch Coal, notes HCN senior editor Jonathan Thompson, "so that would pretty effectively end Obama's so-called War on Coal." Gregoire's environmental record is mixed; she's worried about the rapidly-acidifying ocean, but greens aren't happy with her approach to wolves and grazing. Dorgan also has an uneven environmental record. He's now an energy policy analyst with the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Another cabinet-level opening may be Secretary of Agriculture. If Tom Vilsack leaves, he might be replaced by former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), or even Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who just beat Denny Rehberg.

And EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Energy Secretary Steven Chu may be on their way out as well. InsideClimate News has a good analysis of possible successors:

For the EPA, most expect an internal hire like deputy administrator Bob Perciasepe or Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. The Department of Energy seems more likely to recruit an outsider, with former Sen. Byron Dorgan, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm or Duke Energy CEO and President Jim Rogers, who will retire at the end of next year, among the groups' top choices.

Some lower-level but vitally important positions will need filling as well -- the BLM has been without a permanent director since Bob Abbey retired in May (Mike Pool has been acting director). And two Interior assistant secretary spots will be vacant, one overseeing land and minerals management  offshore and inland (the acting assistant secretary, Marcilynn Burke, didn't make it through the confirmation process), and one overseeing the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service (last January, Obama gave up on his nominee for that post, Rebecca Wodder, after stiff resistance in the Senate).

Stay tuned to HCN over the next few months – as the Obama administration starts its second term, we'll be reporting on possible picks and what they might mean for the West.

Jodi Peterson is HCN's Managing Editor.

Photo of Raul Grijalva by Ruben Reyes.

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