WASHINGTON, DC, January 16, 2013 (ENS) – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today announced he will be leaving the Obama Cabinet by the end of March to return to his home state of Colorado.

“Colorado is and will always be my home. I look forward to returning to my family and Colorado after eight years in Washington, DC,” said Secretary Salazar. “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.”

Ken Salazar

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signs a Conservation Easement in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado, June 14, 2012 (Ryan Moehring / USFWS)

Then Senator Barack Obama of Illinois entered the Senate in 2005, as did then Senator Salazar of Colorado.

President Obama said today, “As the Secretary of the Interior, Ken has helped usher in a new era of conservation for our nation’s land, water, and wildlife. Ken has played an integral role in my Administration’s successful efforts to expand responsible development of our nation’s domestic energy resources.”

“In his work to promote renewable energy projects on our public lands and increase the development of oil and gas production, Ken has ensured that the Department’s decisions are driven by the best science and promote the highest safety standards,” said the President.

Ken has also made historic strides in strengthening our nation to nation relationship with Indian Country, helping to resolve longstanding disputes and make tribal communities safer and stronger,” said Obama.

“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,” said Salazar. “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.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada had high praise for Salazar, saying today, “In my 30 years of service in Congress, I have never worked with a better steward of our nation’s precious natural resources than Ken Salazar. Growing up in his family’s ranch in Colorado, Ken always understood and respected the importance of protecting our country’s natural wealth. He approached his job as a man of the land because that is exactly what he is, with deep roots to the Mountain West.

Environmental groups also applauded the outgoing interior secretary.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said, “Secretary Salazar’s leadership at the Department of the Interior has helped put our nation on a path where protecting our natural legacy and wild lands is a priority, and not an afterthought.”

“Thanks to Secretary Salazar, more national parks and wildlife refuges are open, more of America’s pristine Arctic is off limits to dangerous drilling, and more public lands are in public hands. He also led the overhaul of safety standards for drilling in the wake of the BP oil disaster and stood up to defend American wilderness by protecting Drakes Estero National Seashore.”

“We look forward to building on his achievements with his successor, working to designate new national monuments and keeping dirty energy developers off our public lands and out of the Arctic,” said Brune.

Secretary Salazar helped usher in a new era of conservation. Under President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors program, Interior has established 10 national wildlife refuges and seven national parks since 2009.

“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,” Salazar said. “We have established an enduring vision for conservation in the 21st century that recognizes all people from all walks of life.”

Under Secretary Salazar’s leadership, since 2009, Interior has authorized 34 solar, wind and geothermal energy projects on public lands that total 10,400 megawatts – or enough to power over three million homes.

Salazar also oversaw a visionary blueprint for solar energy development in the West and established the nation’s first program for offshore wind leasing and permitting in America’s oceans.

“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.”

Salazar has also undertaken an historic overhaul of Interior’s management of oil and gas resources, implementing tough new ethics standards for all employees. He led Interior’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and split the former Minerals Management Service into three independent agencies.
Interior has offered millions of acres offshore in the Gulf of Mexico for safe and responsible exploration and development and is proceeding with cautious exploration of Arctic resources, a development that environmental groups seek to block, saying the fragile and pristine Arctic cannot withstand an oil spill.

Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke said today, “Secretary Salazar has worked to strike a balance between responsible use and vital protection of the natural resources we share. He’s laid a sound foundation for solar power on federal lands, while protecting special areas where development doesn’t make sense. He moved quickly to improve public oversight of offshore drilling in the wake of the BP oil disaster. And he’s worked to end the global bazaar in polar bears, where his continued leadership will be vital in the waning months of his tenure.”

“The next secretary will take office at a challenging time,” said Beinecke. “They must clear out the unconscionable backlog that keeps endangered wildlife from getting the protection they need. They must do more to protect our waters, ranches, communities and farms from the ravages of gas and oil production. And they must learn from Shell’s disastrous performance in recent months that we cannot expose Arctic waters to the perils of offshore drilling.”

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