What does Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar’s likely appointment to head the Department of Interior mean for environmental and energy policy? A few episodes from his congressional career may shed some light.
Salazar has only been in the Senate since 2005, so he hasn’t racked up a lengthy voting record. His lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters is an 81 percent (in high-school terms, a “B-“). His scores for individual years have varied quite a bit, from 73 percent in 2007 to a perfect score in 2008. When he has parted ways with the environmental community, it’s primarily been on water resources and agriculture issues. (Salazar serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, as well as the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.)
Salazar has been the Senate’s staunchest opponent of the Bush administration’s plans to rush forward with oil-shale development in Western states. “How is a federal agency to establish regulations, lease land and then manage oil shale development without knowing whether the technology is commercially viable, how much water the technology would need (no small question in the arid West), how much carbon would be emitted, the source of the electricity to power the projects, or what the effects would be on Western landscapes?” Salazar asked in an op-ed in The Washington Post this summer.
This past summer, Salazar signed on to the much-talked-of bipartisan energy plan in the Senate — the one that started out as a “Gang of 10” effort, grew to a “Gang of 20,” and then was shelved. This compromise plan merged tax incentives and funding for renewables with some offshore drilling. Enviros were not thrilled with the plan’s embrace of fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
Last year, he cosponsored a bipartisan bill that called for more efficient use of water and more research into the effects of climate change on water supply, particularly in Western states. “Even if we move forward with significant increases in the use of renewable energies, we are learning that some adaptation measures are inevitable to reduce the harm from climate change that proves to be unavoidable,” Salazar said at a hearing on the bill. “[M]any scientists are now saying the American West will experience the effects of climate change sooner and more intensely than most other regions. Our scarce snow and water of the West is already being impacted, much of it in ways that we do not clearly understand.”
In 2005, his first year in Congress, Salazar cosponsored the Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act, which would have required the White House and federal agencies to develop an action plan to cut America’s oil consumption by 2.5 million barrels of oil a day within a decade and 10 million barrels a day by 2031.
Last week, during a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Salazar argued for an economic recovery plan that includes significant investments in energy infrastructure. “When Congress reconvenes in January, we must immediately pass a strong economic recovery package that gets our economy back on track in the near term, while also taking advantage of new opportunities that will drive economic growth down the road,” said Salazar. “Investing in efforts to modernize our energy grid and develop new, clean energy technologies is a great way to accomplish both of these goals. By making these investments, we will create jobs, reduce energy costs for consumers, and lay the foundation for America’s economic future.”
In 2007, Salazar voted against an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act reauthorization bill that would have required the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider the long- and short-term effects of climate change in their planning, and use the best available modern climate science when planning water projects. That amendment failed by a 51-42 vote. He also voted against another amendment to the act that would have created an independent commission to assess and prioritize Army Corps of Engineer water projects. The commission was supposed to direct funding away from “pork barrel” projects and help clear out the $58 billion backlog of previously authorized water projects.
Salazar voted against a subsidy-reform amendment to the farm bill that would have boosted conservation funding by $1.2 billion and made access to the funds more equitable. The amendment failed by a 37-58 vote. He also voted against an amendment to cap farm subsidies and redirect almost $100 million of those funds to the Grasslands Reserve Program and the Farmland Protection Program. The amendment would have closed loopholes that provide giant subsidies to industrial-scale farms.
National Parks Conservation Association President Tom Kiernan issued a statement on Tuesday praising the news that Salazar will be nominated to head DOI. “Sen. Salazar has been an outstanding leader in national park protection in the U.S. Senate,” said Kiernan. “He has championed the strengthening of the parks’ management policies, advocated to address the parks’ chronic funding needs, led the introduction of the National Park Centennial Challenge, and worked to harness the educational power of our national parks for our children and grandchildren. He has also championed appropriate expansion of the National Park System. Our national parks will be in great hands with Ken Salazar.”
Other environmental organizations and interest groups have yet to weigh in. Overall, the jury’s still out on what to expect from Salazar.