CHICAGO, Illinois, December 17, 2008 (ENS) - In announcing Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as his choice for secretary of the interior and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack for secretary of agriculture, President-elect Barack Obama said he considers both men to be key members of his energy and environment team.
"It's time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that's committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all our families," Obama said at the Chicago news conference today to introduce his latest Cabinet members. "That means ensuring that even as we are promoting development where it makes sense, we are also fulfilling our obligation to protect our national treasures. That is the kind of leadership embodied by Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack."
In their remarks, Secretaries-designate Salazar and Vilsack both emphasized their commitment to focusing on energy issues.
"I look forward to working directly with President-elect Obama as an integral part of his team as we take the moon shot on energy independence," Salazar said. "That energy imperative will create jobs here in America, protect our national security, and confront the dangers of global warming."
Vilsack spoke of his commitment to "promote American leadership in response to global climate change," and declared his intent to "place nutrition at the center of all food programs administered by the department."
"I want a more proactive Interior Department," Obama said. "I also want an Interior Department that very frankly cleans up its act. There have been too many problems and too much emphasis on big time lobbyists in Washington. That's going to change under Ken Salazar."
The nominations of Salazar and Vilsack brought nearly universal praise from across the country. The two current holders of these positions both commended Obama for his choices.
Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer cited the former governor's experience in agricultural issues and expressed confidence in Vilsack's ability to effectively "continue USDA's success in expanding America's agricultural economy."
Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said, "As a lifelong Westerner and rancher who has led Colorado's Department of Natural Resources and is a member of the Senate Energy Committee, Senator Salazar already understands many of Interior's diverse and complex issues. He recognizes the importance that America's federal lands must play in reducing our dependence on foreign energy; he supports our national parks; he has positive relationships with American Indian tribes; he understands the complexities of western water issues."
Obama today made special mention of the relationship he intends to create with Native Americans, saying, "Among the many responsibilities Ken will bear as our next secretary of the interior is helping ensure that we finally live up to the treaty obligations that are owed to the First Americans. We need more than just a government-to-government relationship; we need a nation-to-nation relationship. And Ken and I will work together to make sure that tribal nations have a voice in this administration."
Obama's election was received with approval by National Congress of American Indians President Joe A. Garcia. On November 5, he said, "I believe Indian Country should be encouraged by Mr. Obama's staunch support of Indian self-determination and his pledge that the federal government must honor its treaty obligations and fully enable tribal self-governance."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called Senator Salazar "exceptionally qualified to be our next secretary of interior. During his time in the U.S. Senate, Salazar has proven himself as a strong and thoughtful leader," he said. "In this new role, Salazar will also restore the department's tarnished reputation on science and ethics, and will work with tribal leaders to address the needs of Indian Country."
"Gov. Vilsack will bring strong leadership to the Department of Agriculture," said Reid. "As the twice-elected former Governor of Iowa, he respects the importance of farming and ranching in rural America. Vilsack understands the vital importance of food and nutrition, conservation, energy, and rural development programs, and will take up the challenge of implementing sustainable and reform-minded farm bill projects."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California called both nominees "principled and dedicated public servants."
"Senator Salazar is the committed leader the Interior Department needs right now. The enormous respect he has earned in Congress will only help strengthen his ability to protect America's natural heritage while allowing responsible development of our energy resources.
"As a forceful advocate for energy independence, alternative fuels, and America's family farmers, Governor Vilsack is uniquely prepared to lead the Agriculture Department. I look forward to working with him on these critical issues, particularly as they relate to the implementation of the new farm bill and its emphasis on both renewable energy and meeting Americans' needs for nutritious food."
Environmental leaders were cautiously hopeful. Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke blogged today, "I welcome the news that President-elect Obama has appointed Senator Ken Salazar at the Secretary of the Interior. After years of corruption and corporate dominance at the Interior Department, we desperately need to change the way America's national parks, public lands and wildlife are managed. Salazar must usher in that change, because so much is at stake."
"As Secretary of the Interior, Salazar will oversee not only the Bureau of Land Management, but also the National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is our entire natural heritage," said Beinecke. "And when it comes to wilderness and threatened species, bad actions are irreparable."
Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said, "Senator Ken Salazar has been a champion for America's public lands. 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. 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."
"Governor Tom Vilsack has supported working to improve the environmental performance of U.S. agriculture," said Schweiger. "We look forward to working with him to move our country forward to the next generation of clean, sustainable, biomass energy and improved farming practices that can store carbon and restore the fertility of our soils."
National Park Trust Board Chairman William Brownell said, "Senator Salazar has substantial experience with parks and public lands and has shown a clear commitment throughout his career to reconnecting children and nature."
Industry voices were also raised in praise of Salazar. National Association of Manufacturers President and Chief Executive Officer John Engler called the Colorado senator "a proven leader on natural resources management" and "a strong voice in the U.S. Senate on land, water and energy issues."
"We welcome his support for expanded offshore drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf," said Engler, "which is a significant part of the overall solution to the energy crisis."
The Outdoor Industry Association President Frank Hugelmeyer also praised the choice of Salazar to head the Department of the Interior and oversee 500 million acres - one-fifth of the nation's land.
"As a member of the Senate, he has pushed for federal policies that preserve and promote recreation on National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management lands and has backed legislation granting permanent recognition to the BLM's National Landscape Conservation System and sponsored the National Park Service Centennial Initiative," said Hugelmeyer. "Both of these legislative initiatives were strongly supported by outdoor industry manufacturers and retailers and their customers who pursue recreation on these lands."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.