The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that is threatening fragile ecosystems and local economies all along the Gulf Coast could also end up leaving a permanent stain on the career of U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Dozens of conservation and environmental groups are urging President Barack Obama to "give Ken Salazar his walking papers" for his failure to restore scientific integrity to the Minerals Management Service (MMS) as well as the U.S. Department of the Interior overall--something Salazar promised to do when Obama appointed him to the Cabinet post.
"Today we know that real reform at MMS never happened," the environmentalists write in a joint letter to Obama that WildEarth Guardians is circulating for signatures, according to a breaking news report from The Washington Post. "MMS continued its reckless lack of oversight of the oil and gas industry, this time in the form of rubberstamping off-shore oil and gas development."
Thirty-six of the groups that have signed the letter calling for Salazar's resignation also signed a January 2009 letter that urged Obama not to appoint Salazar in the first place.
"The intervening 16 months, unfortunately, have confirmed that Mr. Salazar will not fulfill your administration's promises to safeguard the environment in this country or globally," the environmentalists write in urging Obama to replace Salazar as Interior Secretary. "Rather, Mr. Salazar has either embraced or failed to reform many of the destructive policies of the previous administration."
When The Washington Post asked Salazar spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff about the letter, she wrote in an e-mail: "The Secretary is devoting 100% of his time to the fight to protect the Gulf Coast from BP's oil spill and will not rest until the leak is stopped, the affected communities are made whole, and the Gulf Coast is restored."
That kind of pie-in-the-sky public relations rhetoric doesn't do much to reassure the public or to strengthen Salazar's position--and it does nothing at all to solve the problem. With the BP oil spill becoming a bigger environmental and economic disaster every day, if Salazar "will not rest" until all of the conditions his spokeswoman outlined are met, he's likely to be exhausted for years to come.
On the other hand, there is more going on here than a bunch of environmental groups trying to make Salazar a scapegoat for the disastrous oil spill spreading throughout the Gulf region or even for the lax government oversight and regulation that contributed to it.
Some of these groups have a different agenda. They want Salazar gone, oil spill or no oil spill, because they disagree with him on other issues such as his decision to lift Endangered Species Act protection for gray wolves in the northern Rockies, his approval of coal mining leases in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, and his initiation of a program to sterilize thousands of wild horse and move thousands more from open range in the West to protected preserves in the East.
The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico offers Salazar's critics the chance to make a compelling case for his removal. Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, says she is confident Obama will ask Salazar to resign.
"Between the oil-slicked waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the blood-stained Northern Rockies, more of us are demanding 'a new sheriff in town.' It is vital for Ken Salazar to turn over his badge to someone willing to face reckless industries with courage and strength," she wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post. "We will continue to remind Obama of this at every turn: It's time to give Ken Salazar his walking papers."
Ironically, the oil and gas industry is probably just as eager to see Salazar go. During his tenure as Interior Secretary, Salazar's relationship with oil companies has been openly hostile at times. Near the end of Salazar's first year at Interior, an editorial in the Oil and Gas Journal charged him with "duplicity" and accused him of undermining a vital U.S. industry. Salazar's industry and conservative critics often accuse him of cozying up to environmentalists at the expense of American jobs and businesses.
In January 2010, Salazar blasted oil and gas industry critics for attacking his policies, saying that during the Bush administration that had operated as though they were "the kings of the world."
"In the past our public lands were the essential candy store of the oil and gas industry, walk in and take whatever they wanted, and that's not the way it ought to be done," Salazar said.
Reflecting on his first year as Interior Secretary, just three months before the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill would turn his world upside down, Salazar seemed pleased with the progress he had made.
"I have no apologies to anybody. The fact of the matter is, we've moved forward with a balanced approach," Salazar said. "That principle has made some in the oil and gas industry mad.
"I'm more at peace relative to my job than I have ever been," he said. "I don't mind the fights, and I don't mind the controversies.
"I am most proud of the fact that we've taken real problems and come up with real solutions to those problems," Salazar continued. "I've got the best job in the Cabinet."
The question now may be, how long can he keep it?
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