Muckraker: Grist on Politics

At a press conference Wednesday morning, Barack Obama officially announced that he will nominate former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) to be secretary of agriculture and Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar (D) to be secretary of the interior, calling them “as accomplished a pair of public servants as we have in America.”

“Together, they will serve as guardians of the American landscape on which the health of our economy and the well-being of our families so heavily depend,” said the president-elect.

Obama said that Salazar “will bring to the Department of the Interior an abiding commitment to this land we love,” citing his work as an environmental lawyer, Colorado’s attorney general, and a senator.

“Few are better equipped to meet the energy and natural-resource challenges we face in the 21st century,” Obama said, noting that he envisions an “expanded role” for the secretary of interior. Obama said Salazar will be deeply involved in crafting energy policy on issues like offshore drilling, oil-shale development, wind power, and improving the electricity grid. Obama did not, however, respond directly to a question from the press about what his administration will do when it comes to oil and gas drilling.

“Over the last eight years, I think we’ve had an Interior Department that was deeply troubled,” said Obama. “Part of what I want to put an end to is an Interior Department that sees its job as simply sitting back, waiting for whomever has the most access to extract what they want. I want a proactive division, talking to farmers, talking to ranchers … setting a comprehensive energy policy so that commercial groups are just one of many groups that are being listened to in the process of drafting policies.”

“I also want an Interior Department that very frankly cleans up its act,” Obama added.

In his brief remarks, a cowboy-hat-sporting Salazar pledged to reduce dependence on foreign oil and conserve public lands.

“I look forward to helping build our clean energy economy, modernize our interstate electrical grid, and ensure that we are making wise use of our conventional natural resources, including coal, oil, and natural gas,” said Salazar. “I look forward to protecting our national parks, public lands and open spaces, and America’s farm and ranchlands. I look forward to restoring our nation’s rivers and working to resolve our water supply challenges.”

In introducing Vilsack, Obama noted, “If you don’t know agriculture, you can’t be the governor of Iowa.” He said Vilsack will play a key role in moving the country toward cellulosic biofuels and harnessing wind and solar energy.

Vilsack promised to promote “sustainable practices” and “to conserve and preserve our resources,” and said the USDA under his watch will be committed to being “good stewards of our natural resources” and “a leader on climate change.”