Environmentalists Lukewarm on Clinton Transition Head

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By Rachel Leven

Aug. 16 — Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will lead the Clinton-Kaine transition team, the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign announced Aug. 16.

Salazar, who served as Interior secretary from 2009 to 2013, has a mixed record with environmentalists on issues ranging from hydraulic fracturing to protection of public lands. While one environmentalist told Bloomberg BNA that the appointment isn't an indicator that Hillary Clinton's policies will shift, two other environmentalists worried about Salazar holding a position that during President Barack Obama's own presidential transition was held by individuals who have remained his closest advisers.

“Certainly what he says will carry weight with her administration,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “We take this as a sign that he’s certainly going to be engaged.”

The Clinton-Kaine Transition Project that Salazar will chair has been tasked with preparing for a potential Clinton presidency. Other transition team members include former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D); former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon; Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden; and Maggie Williams, director of Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

Salazar's Record

This won't be Salazar's first or even second bout in the nation's capital, where the transition team will be based. Before serving as Interior secretary under President Barack Obama, Salazar was the first Hispanic-American from Colorado to serve in the U.S. Senate, and was one of the two first Hispanic senators to serve in the Senate since 1977. He previously was the first Hispanic to be elected to statewide office as attorney general in Colorado.

Some environmentalists expressed disappointment regarding the decision to have Salazar lead the transition team. One concern was Salazar's position in support of hydraulic fracturing to help the U.S. achieve energy independence.

Nichols said the former secretary prioritized energy development over endangered species and didn't include climate change as a consideration in the department's decision-making. He pointed to Salazar's March 2011 decision to lease four tracts of public lands covering 7,441.25 acres with an estimated 758 million tons of mineable coal as an example of policies that weren't environment-friendly.

Robert Gardner, U.S. national political coordinator for 350 Action, told Bloomberg BNA that Salazar was a “mixed bag” for the environment. But decisions such as the Interior's June 2012 Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2012 through 2017 that allowed offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 were “just not OK,” he said.

But Melinda Pierce, legislative director for the Sierra Club, told Bloomberg BNA that Salazar also had a “long history of protecting public lands.” Pierce said his chairmanship “bodes well for getting key leaders into the Department of Interior and elsewhere who are going to share that ‘protect the public lands' ethos.”

Public Lands Protection History

For example, Pierce noted that in January 2012, Salazar issued 20-year uranium mining and exploration ban on 1 million acres of public lands near the Grand Canyon. He also approved more than a half-dozen large-scale solar projects on federal lands and directed the Interior Department to create a programmatic environmental impact statement for solar energy development to set a framework for developing large-scale solar energy projects on federal lands.

Regardless of his own policies, though, Pierce said Salazar as transition head would be working to set up a structure to execute Clinton's policies. Clinton has been unequivocal in her own support for efforts like limiting hydraulic fracturing and closing the Halliburton loophole that allows companies not to disclose chemicals they have used during fracking, she said.

“When he signed on as the transition team head, although he didn’t trade in his big white hat, he did put on a Hillary Clinton T-shirt,” Pierce said. “Whatever his positions are on trade or fracking or what have you, his job is to put forward the Hillary Clinton agenda.”

Gardner still worried that Clinton picked Salazar. Transition chief is a “very significant role” as seen in Obama's own transition team, which included John Podesta, who also served as a counselor to the president, Gardner said. He will likely have the ear of the administration, and a Cabinet or adviser position doesn't seem out of the question, he said.

“Whether or not he is a good administrator, we have to make sure that his environmental ethics are not brought into the administration,” Gardner said.

Granholm Clean Energy

The other transition member whose environment and energy credentials were touted was former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

In a speech at the Democratic National Convention, Granholm touched on clean energy and the Flint, Mich., lead-in-water crisis, and she helped spur the Michigan economy by investing in clean energy, among other efforts. Since serving as governor, she was as an adviser to Pew Charitable Trusts’ Clean Energy Program and is now senior research fellow at the Berkeley Energy & Climate Institute.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rachel Leven in Washington at rleven@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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