MICHAEL FALCONE, The New York Times, January 16, 2009
On January 15, 2009, Senator Ken Salazar pledged to “clean up the mess” at the Interior Department if he is confirmed as the next chief of the department, which has been plagued by ethics scandals.
Mr. Salazar, Democrat of Colorado, also said he shared President Obama’s commitment to ending the country’s dependence on foreign oil, a goal that he said could be achieved, in part, through greater use of renewable resources like solar and wind power.
But he avoided specifics when members of the Senate Committee on Energy and National Resources, who are considering his confirmation, pressed him on whether he supported an expansion of oil extraction from public lands and offshore drilling.
On the question of whether to open more areas off the coasts to oil exploration, Mr. Salazar said there might be some areas where it would be appropriate and “other places that are off limits.”
The full Senate voted Thursday to set aside two million acres in nine states as protected wilderness. Approval is expected in the House.
Mr. Salazar, who was a farmer and rancher before he entered public life, also promised that on his watch the agency, which has jurisdiction over vast expanses of federal lands, would not be focused solely on the western half of the United States.
“I want this department to be America’s department,” he said.
Mr. Salazar also fielded questions on a variety of other topics, including the Endangered Species Act and changes at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
He kept his answers short, and often vague, but appeared to breeze through the hearing before a committee of his legislative colleagues.
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said that it had turned into a “full-fledged bouquet-tossing contest.”
But Mr. Wyden warned Mr. Salazar that he had some “very heavy lifting ahead,” and sought assurances that he would review some decisions made by Bush administration officials to see if they were politically tainted.
Mr. Salazar said, “We will review what decisions have been made to see whether there is action necessary to make sure that they’re in compliance with the law and to make sure they’re in compliance with the science.”