Integrity of Interior Department Compromised By Bush

John Broder's Wednesday afternoon story sprayed Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, Obama's choice to head the Interior Department, with plenty of ammunition from left-wing environmentalists, as demonstrated by the headline, "Environmentalists Wary of Obama's Interior Pick." In fact, Broder's story read more like a liberal editorial than a news story, taking for granted that Bush's Interior Department was scandal-plagued and politicized.

President-elect Barack Obama's choice to lead the Interior Department, Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado, will inherit an agency demoralized by years of scandal, political interference and mismanagement.

He must deal with the sharp tension between those who seek to exploit public lands for energy, minerals and recreation and those who want to preserve the lands. He will be expected to restore scientific integrity to a department where it has repeatedly been compromised. He will be responsible for ending the department's coziness with the industries it regulates. And he will have to work hard to overcome skepticism among many environmentalists about his views on resource and wildlife issues.

Broder might be thinking about Times stories like this one by Charlie Savage, accusing Interior Department officials of "meddling" with scientific work to limit the range of the Endangered Species Act, among other things. But why shouldn't agency officials have the final word on agency policy? As the global warming debate shows, scientists are hardly immune to left-wing politicization.

Broder portrayed nodding approval of Salazarfrom representatives of the oil and gas industry as an ominous sign:

Environmental advocates offered mixed reviews of Mr. Salazar, 53, a first-term Democratic senator who served as head of Colorado's natural resources department and as the state's attorney general. Mr. Salazar was not the first choice of environmentalists, who openly pushed the appointment of Representative Raul Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, who has a strong record as a conservationist.

Oil and mining interests praised Mr. Salazar's performance as a state official and as a senator, saying that he was not doctrinaire about the use of public lands. "Nothing in his record suggests he's an ideologue," said Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association. "Here's a man who understands the issues, is open-minded and can see at least two sides of an issue."


While industry officials praised his moderation, Mr. Salazar drew harsh criticism from some environmentalists.

"He is a right-of-center Democrat who often favors industry and big agriculture in battles over global warming, fuel efficiency and endangered species," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of Center for Biological Diversity, which tracks endangered species and habitat issues. "He is very unlikely to bring significant change to the scandal-plagued Department of Interior. It's a very disappointing choice for a presidency which promised visionary change."