Salazar confirmed as Secretary of the Interior

Just hours after President Barack Obama took the oath of office, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as Interior Secretary in the Obama cabinet.

Salazar replaced Ben Nighthorse Campbell in the Western Colorado district after winning a hard-fought election against Republican Pete Coors in the 2004 general election. Since, Salazar has earned a reputation as a conservative democrat and his cabinet appointment was not without controversy.

Despite the unanimous vote confirming him as Interior Secretary, Salazar’s ties to the ranching and mining industries had led to objections by some environmentalists.

Prior to leaving the Senate, Salazar managed to draft environmental legislation important to two areas in Southwestern Colorado. In the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S.22), he included legislation that amended the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, to assist the administration of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge in the San Luis Valley. Salazar also included the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area Act, which establishes a national heritage area in Conejos, Costilla, and Alamosa counties. The legislation authorizes the federal government to provide up to $10 million in matching funds over 15 years for the rehabilitation of historic structures, the protection of cultural and natural resources, and the development of other programs intended to promote and preserve the cultural heritage of the San Luis Valley.

The U.S. Senate passed S.22 Jan. 15, by a 73-21 vote. The measure will now move to the U.S. House of Representatives for further consideration.

Salazar submitted his letter of resignation to the U.S. Senate Monday, ahead of final confirmation. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter selected Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to fill Salazar’s senate vacancy.

The senate also confirmed other cabinet positions Tuesday, including Steven Chu as Energy Secretary, Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education, Janet Napolitano as Homeland Security chief, Peter Orszag as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Eric K. Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and Tom Vilsack as Agriculture Secretary.

Yesterday, the Senate voted 94-2 to confirm Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State.

jim@pagosasun.com