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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to leave Obama administration in March

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced on Wednesday that he will be leaving the Obama administration by the end of March to return to his home in Colorado and spend time with his family.

“Colorado is and will always be my home. I look forward to returning to my family and Colorado after eight years in Washington, D.C.,” Salazar said in a statement. “I am forever grateful to President Obama for his friendship in the U.S. Senate and the opportunity he gave me to serve as a member of his cabinet during this historic presidency.”

“I have had the privilege of reforming the Department of the Interior to help lead the United States in securing a new energy frontier, ushering in a conservation agenda for the 21st century, and honoring our word to the nation’s first Americans,” Salazar added. “I thank the more than 70,000 employees at the Department for their dedication to our mission as custodians of America’s natural and cultural resources. I look forward to helping my successor in a seamless transition in the months ahead.”

The Denver Post reports that both the president and the vice president indicated they would like Salazar to stay. His departure also means that President Obama would have no Latinos in his cabinet, unless someone else is appointed before Salazar leaves at the end of March.

During his four year tenure as interior secretary, Salazar has been a champion of renewable energy and conservation, greenlighting 34 renewable energy projects on federal lands — including utility-scale solar facilities, wind farms, as well as geothermal plants — and establishing seven new national parks and 10 new wildlife refuges.

“Today, the largest solar energy projects in the world are under construction on America’s public lands in the West, and we’ve issued the first leases for offshore wind in the Atlantic,” said Salazar. “I am proud of the renewable energy revolution that we have launched.”

“From the Crown of the Continent in Montana to the prairie grasslands of Kansas to the Everglades Headwaters in Florida, we are partnering with landowners, farmers, and ranchers to preserve their way of life and the irreplaceable land and wildlife that together we cherish,” he added.

Salazar also resided over the Obama administration’s offshore drilling moratorium in the wake of the April 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We have undertaken the most aggressive oil and gas safety and reform agenda in U.S. history, raising the bar on offshore drilling safety, practices and technology and ensuring that energy development is done in the right way and in the right places,” said Salazar. “Today, drilling activity in the Gulf is surpassing levels seen before the spill, and our nation is on a promising path to energy independence.”

On the campaign trail last year, Obama said Salazar was “one of the finest senators that the state of Colorado ever had, who is now doing a great job looking after the natural resources of this beautiful country of ours.”

However, critics of the administration’s federal lands policies argue that oil and gas production on federal lands have suffered while less reliable renewable sources flourish.

“President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have presided over the most abysmal stewardship of public lands in recent history,” said Dan Kish of the Institute for Energy Research in October. “Oil production on federal lands declined last year,” Kish added. “Natural gas production on federal lands is in a free fall. Western oil shale is under an Obama embargo, and our vast offshore energy resources must now wait another 5 years for development thanks to the president’s most recent 5 year OCS plan.”

As recently as November, Salazar’s Interior Department closed off 1.6 million acres originally slated for shale development, at a time when oil and gas production on federal lands are falling.

IER reports that oil and natural gas production on federal lands fell between 2010 and 2011 levels — 11 percent for oil production and 6 percent for natural gas production.

Furthermore, Bureau of Land Management data shows that the average approval time for oil and gas leases was 307 days in 2011, up from only 212 days in 2008.

“Meanwhile, the administration fast-tracks permitting for wind and solar firms that admit they cannot survive without government subsidies or the mandates that force consumers to purchase their product,” Kish added.

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