Gas industry, state environmental groups support Salazar |

Gas industry, state environmental groups support Salazar

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Members of environmental groups and oil and gas trade organizations in Colorado have given the thumbs up to the news that U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar is expected to become Interior secretary.

However, some environmental groups outside of Colorado assailed Salazar’s apparent selection as head of the Interior Department.

The Associated Press, the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post have reported that President-elect Barack Obama has selected U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., for the job of Interior secretary and that the senator has accepted the offer.

Michael Amodeo, a spokesman for Salazar, said the senator’s office was not commenting on news that he had been offered or accepted the Interior secretary post.

But in the wake of the reports, Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said Salazar will “provide a strong Western voice and will play a pivotal role in meeting the administration’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing energy security.”

Smith said Obama’s selection of Salazar showed that he was serious about fulfilling his campaign promise to “tap our natural gas reserves.”

John Swartout, senior vice president for policy and government affairs for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the trade group thinks Salazar’s expected move to the Interior Department is a “great thing not only for Colorado but also for all the West and the entire country.”

“Ken Salazar is a very, very thoughtful and dedicated public servant,” he said. “He has qualities that will be well suited for that job. I look on this very favorably.”

Salazar has drawn strong criticism from from some in the oil and gas industry this year for positions he has taken over drilling on the Roan Plateau and the development of oil shale.

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, criticized Salazar’s selection. He said the Department of the Interior “desperately needs a strong, forward looking, reform-minded secretary.”

“Unfortunately, Ken Salazar is not that man,” he said, citing Salazar’s support for offshore drilling along Florida’s coasts and his vote against increased fuel efficiency standards for the U.S. automobile fleet.

The Center for Biological Diversity was one of about 150 environmental groups who wrote to Obama’s transition team earlier this month asking that Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz, be named Interior secretary.

Few of those groups had strong Colorado connections.

But Mike Chiropolos, lands program director for Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, a nonprofit environmental and law policy organization, said Obama found the most qualified person in the country to lead the Interior Department. He said the biggest challenge Salazar will face is balancing protection of public land with appropriate development of energy resources.

“It is going to be close to night and day between the current Department of the Interior and what Sen. Salazar might usher in,” Chiropolos said of Salazar’s selection. “He is actually going to listen to and collaborate with state governments and listen to the people of the region.”

Several times this year Salazar criticized the Bureau of Land Management and the Interior Department for not listening to the concerns of the state and local communities on several issues affecting the Western Slope, including drilling on the Roan Plateau and the issuance of commercial oil shale regulations.

Chiropolos said Salazar’s new position could even give an opening to environmental groups in their lawsuit against the BLM over the Roan Plateau.

“There is no doubt it gives us an opening if you compare the positions Salazar has taken in legislation and public statements,” said Chiropolos, who is one of the attorneys representing 10 groups suing the BLM over potential drilling on the Roan Plateau.

Clare Bastable, conservation director of the Colorado Mountain Club, a recreational and conservation organization based out of Golden, said she was “thrilled” that Salazar is expected to become the Interior secretary.

“He has a deep understanding of natural resource issues in the West,” she said. “He has been a steadfast champion of the Roan Plateau since he was elected to the Senate four years ago. He has consistently supported local communities in their desires to protect the Roan’s natural values. We hope he continues to be a champion for the Roan Plateau.”

Bastable added that she hoped that whomever Colo. Gov. Bill Ritter may appoint to replace Salazar, he or she should “be from the Western Slope or have a deep understanding of natural resource issues that are important to the Western Slope.”

Potential names that have been floated to replace Salazar include his brother, Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, who recently received a coveted spot on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee. Others whose names have come up are Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff.

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117

Post Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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