Ken Salazar, a man of unnaturally sunny disposition in an often gloomy town, may be the happiest person in the Obama administration these days. As reported by The New York Times, he is going home to Colorado next week, provided his successor as interior secretary is confirmed as expected.
“I’ve had a glorious and joyful run,” he reflected about his four years at the top of the Department of the Interior and, before that, his four years in the Senate. “Coming to work, I’ve just been living the dream every day.”
Salazar, 58, took over an agency that had been the scene of rampant financial scandal and political malpractice in the Bush administration and succeeded in restoring a measure of ethics and morale. He had the good fortune of suffering his greatest setback — the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that laid bare persistent flaws in the agency’s regulation of offshore oil and gas operations — relatively early in his tenure.
He also escaped without serious harm from a second serious miscalculation — allowing the Shell Oil Company to begin exploring for oil and gas off the North Slope of Alaska before it had the equipment, personnel or management skill to handle the challenges of working in the Arctic environment. Though Shell had repeated accidents and delays, no one was injured and no oil spilled, in part because the regulators at the Interior Department blocked them from drilling into oil-bearing zones.
He said that the greatest immediate challenge facing his designated successor, Sally Jewell, the chief executive of Recreational Equipment Inc. in Seattle, will be dealing with the impacts of the mandatory federal spending cuts known as sequestration. Those cuts will reduce the agency’s budget by more than $250 million over the next six months and require reductions in Interior Department operations across the board, Salazar said.
“It will have an enormous impact,” he said. Already, hours and services are being cut back at national parks and other public lands, and the department’s summer youth employment programs will be cut to 15,000 workers from 22,600 last year.
Jewell, who skated through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a 19-3 vote on March 21, is expected to win confirmation from the full Senate as early as next week. An avid outdoorswoman who has never held public office, Jewell is already at work in a transition office at the Interior Department, where she is being briefed on her new responsibilities.
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