[env-trinity] An different viewpoint on the new Interior Secretary

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Jan 7 11:58:15 PST 2009

An interesting viewpoint on the new Interior Secretary. Most of the statements about him have been positive so far.


from: http://www.counterpunch.org/stclair12192008.html

Weekend Edition
December 19 - 21, 2008
How to Make Bruce Babbitt Look Like Ed Abbey
Salazar and the Tragedy of the Common Ground


Although America's greatest Interior Secretary, Harold Ickes, who had the post for nearly a decade under FDR, was from Chicago, the playbook for presidential transitions calls for picking a Westerner for Interior, as long as the nominee isn't a Californian. Pick someone from Arizona or New Mexico or Colorado. Of course, Colorado has produced two of the worst recent Interior Secretaries: James Watt and Gale Norton.  Ken Salazar may make it three.

And why not? After all, Salazar was one of the first to endorse Gale Norton's nomination as Bush's Interior Secretary.

By almost any standard, it's hard to imagine a more uninspired or uninspiring choice for the job than professional middle-of-the-roader Ken Salazar, the conservative Democrat from Colorado. This pal of Alberto Gonzalez is a meek politician, who has never demonstrated the stomach for confronting the corporate bullies of the west: the mining, timber and oil companies who have been feasting on Interior Department handouts for the past eight years. Even as attorney general of Colorado, Salazar built a record of timidity when it came to going after renegade mining companies.

The editorial pages of western papers have largely hailed Salazar's nomination. The common theme seems to be that Salazar will be "an honest broker." But broker of what? Mining claims and oil leases, most likely.

Less defensible are the dial-o-matic press releases faxed out by the mainstream groups, greenwashing Salazar's dismal record. Here's Carl Pope, CEO of the Sierra Club, who fine-tuned this kind of rhetorical airbrushing during the many traumas of the Clinton years:

    "The Sierra Club is very pleased with the nomination of Ken Salazar to head the Interior Department. As a Westerner and a rancher, he understands the value of our public lands, parks, and wildlife and has been a vocal critic of the Bush Administration's reckless efforts to sell-off our public lands to Big Oil and other special interests. Senator Salazar has been a leader in protecting places like the Roan Plateau and he has stood up against the Bush's administration's dangerous rush to develop oil shale in Colorado and across the West.

    "Senator Salazar has also been a leading voice in calling for the development of the West's vast solar, wind, and geothermal resources. He will make sure that we create the good-paying green jobs that will fuel our economic recovery without harming the public lands he will be charged with protecting."

Who knew that strip-mining for coal, an industry Salazar resolutely promotes, was a green job? Hold on tight, here we go once more down the rabbit hole.

The Sierra Club had thrown its organizational heft behind Mike Thompson, the hook-and-rifle Democratic congressman from northern California. Obama stiffed them and got away with it without enduring  even a whimper of disappointment.

In the exhaust-stream, not far beyond Pope, came an organization (you can't call them a group, since they don't really have any members) called the Campaign for American Wilderness, lavishly endowed by the centrist Pew Charitable Trusts, to fete Salazar. According to Mike Matz, the Campaign's executive director, Salazar "has been a strong proponent of protecting federal lands as wilderness.As a farmer, a rancher, and a conservationist, Sen. Salazar understands the importance of balancing traditional uses of our public lands with the need to protect them. His knowledge of land management issues in the West, coupled with his ability to work with diverse groups and coalitions to find common ground, will serve him well at the Department of the Interior."

Whenever seasoned greens see the word "common ground" invoked as a solution for thorny land use issues in the Interior West it sets off an early warning alarm. "Common ground" is another flex-phrase like, "win-win" solution that indicates greens will be handed a few low-calorie crumbs while business will proceed to gorge as usual.

In Salazar's case, these morsels have been a few measly wilderness areas inside non-contentious areas, such as Rocky Mountain National Park. Designating a wilderness inside a national park is about as risky as placing the National Mall off-limits to oil drilling.

But Salazar's green gifts haven't come without a cost. In the calculus of common ground politics, trade-offs come with the territory.  For example, Salazar, under intense pressure from Coloradoans, issued a tepid remonstrance against the Bush administration's maniacal plan to open up the Roan Plateau in western Colorado to oil drilling. But he voted to authorize oil drilling off the coast of Florida, voted against increased fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks and voted against the repeal of tax breaks for Exxon-Mobil when the company was shattering records for quarterly profits.

On the very day that Salazar's nomination was leaked to the press, the Inspector General for the Interior Department released a devastating report on the demolition of the Endangered Species Act under the Bush administration, largely at the hands of the disgraced Julie MacDonald, former Deputy Secretary of Interior for Fish and Wildlife. The IG report, written by Earl Devaney, detailed how MacDonald personally interfered with 13 different endangered species rulings, bullying agency scientists and rewriting biological opinions. "MacDonald injected herself personally and profoundly in a number of ESA decisions," Devaney wrote in a letter to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. "We determined that MacDonald's management style was abrupt and abrasive, if not abusive, and that her conduct demoralized and frustrated her staff as well as her subordinate managers."

What McDonald did covertly, Salazar might attempt openly in the name of, yes, common ground. Take the case of the white-tailed prairie dog, one of the declining species that MacDonald went to nefarious lengths to keep from enjoying the protections of the Endangered Species Act. Prairie dogs are viewed as pests by ranchers and their populations have been remorselessly targeted for elimination on rangelands across the Interior West.

Ken Salazar, former rancher, once threatened to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service to keep the similarly imperiled black-tailed prairie dog off the endangered species list. The senator also fiercely opposed efforts to inscribe stronger protections for endangered species in the 2008 Farm Bill.

"The Department of the Interior desperately needs a strong, forward looking, reform-minded Secretary," says Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. "Unfortunately, Ken Salazar is not that man. He endorsed George Bush's selection of Gale Norton as Secretary of Interior, the very woman who initiated and encouraged the scandals that have rocked the Department of the Interior. Virtually all of the misdeeds described in the Inspector General's expose occurred during the tenure of the person Ken Salazar advocated for the position he is now seeking."
As a leading indicator of just how bad Salazar may turn out to be, an environmentalist need only bushwhack through the few remaining daily papers to the stock market pages, where energy speculators, cheered at the Salazar pick, drove up the share price of coal companies, such as Peabody, Massey Energy and Arch Coal. The battered S&P Coal index rose by three per cent on the day Obama introduced the coal-friendly Salazar as his nominee.
Say this much for Salazar: he's not a Clinton retread. In fact, he makes Clinton Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt look like Ed Abbey. The only way to redeem Clinton's sorry record on the environment is for Obama to be worse.

As Hot Rod Blajogevich demonstrated in his earthy vernacular, politics is a pay-to-play sport. Like Ken Salazar, Barack Obama's political underwriters included oil-and-gas companies, utilities, financial houses, agribusiness giants, such as Archer Daniels Midlands, and coal companies. These bundled campaign contributions dwarfed the money given to Obama by environmentalists, many of whom backed Hillary in the Democratic Party primaries.

Environmentalists made no demands of Obama during the election and sat silently as he backed off-shore oil drilling, pledged to build new nuclear plants and sang the virtues of the oxymoron known as clean-coal technology. At this point, the president-elect probably feels he owes them no favors. And he gave them none. The environmental establishment cheered.

So the environmental movement has once again been left out in the cold, begging Rahm Emmanuel for a few sub-cabinet appointments. They may get one or two positions out of a couple hundred slots. But Big Green's docile genuflections to Salazar won't make those table-scraps go down any smoother.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is just out from AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at: sitka at comcast.net. 

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