Ken Salazar. Photo: David Zalubowski / AP
Ken Salazar.

Ken Salazar, Obama’s choice to head the Department of the Interior, is provoking controversy in the environmental community. Many activists, particularly among grassroots conservation groups in the West, are criticizing the pick, while some industry interests and big, mainstream green groups are praising Salazar.

The opponents have been the most outspoken so far.

Jon Marvel, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, called the appointment “a travesty” and said Salazar “will completely undermine Obama’s message of change. He will not bring change to the public lands of the western United States.”

“The Department of the Interior desperately needs a strong, forward-looking, reform-minded secretary,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement yesterday. “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 [this week's] Inspector General exposé occurred during the tenure of the person Ken Salazar advocated for the position he is now seeking.”

The CBD’s release continues, “While Salazar has promoted some good environmental actions and fought against off-road-vehicle abuse, his overall record is decidedly mixed, and is especially weak in the arenas most important to the next secretary of the interior: protecting scientific integrity, combating global warming, reforming energy development, and protecting endangered species.”

The group notes that Salazar has voted against raising fuel-economy standards for automobiles and repealing tax breaks for oil companies, and voted for offshore oil drilling along Florida’s coast and subsidies for ranchers who use public lands. (More on Salazar’s Senate voting record on environmental issues here.) CBD also notes that Salazar threatened to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the listing of the black-tailed prairie dog as endangered when he was attorney general of Colorado.

“Ken Salazar does not bring the change we need at Interior,” said Nicole Rosmarino, the wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “Salazar will not take strong stances on behalf of science and environmental protection and is not up to the task of undoing the enormous damage the Bush administration has done to public lands, endangered species, and the credibility of the Department of the Interior over the last eight years.”

Others are upset that Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D), who had been a favorite among enviros, was not selected.

“We’ve seen [Grijalva's] record — that’s very strong in regard to public lands and endangered species,” Oregon Wild spokesperson Sean Stevens told NPR. “And I don’t think we have the same sort of confidence in Ken Salazar. Hopefully we can grow to have that confidence.”

But Salazar also has his supporters.

“Throughout his career, Sen. Salazar has campaigned on a pledge of support for ‘our land, our water, our people.’ With a perfect 100 percent score on the 2008 LCV Scorecard, he has lived up to that pledge,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski in a statement. “As a westerner, Sen. Salazar has hands-on experience with land and water issues, and will restore the Department of the Interior’s role as the steward of America’s public resources. We look forward to working with him to protect the health of America’s land, water, and people in the coming years.”

Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America’s Wilderness, also applauded the pick: “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.”

National Wildlife Federation President and CEO Larry Schweiger also offered praise for Salazar. “He’s fought to protect Western lands from costly, destructive oil-shale production. He also took on the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management over oil and gas leasing on the Roan Plateau in northwest Colorado,” said Schweiger. “And as a former water-rights and mining lawyer and former director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, Sen. Salazar brings an experienced perspective to needed mining reform.”

At the same time, mining interests seem pleased with the Salazar pick too. “I first heard it Monday and was excited because I have worked with him when I used to live in Colorado. I know that he’s fair and balanced,” Laura Skaer, executive director of the Northwest Mining Association, told NPR.

BP America Chair and President Robert Malone also expressed approval for the Salazar selection, saying he thinks Salazar would be open minded, Reuters reports.