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Biggest Energy Blunder of Obama Years? Administration Opens New Lands for Mining

It's all about the money, of course and it shouldn't come as a surprise that Ken Salazar pressed the green light for more dirty energy development instead of funding renewables.

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Whenever seasoned greens see the word "common ground" invoked as a solution for thorny land use issues in the Interior West it sets off an early warning alarm. "Common ground" is another flex-phrase like, "win-win" solution that indicates greens will be handed a few low-calorie crumbs while business will proceed to gorge as usual.  

In Salazar's case, these morsels were a few measly wilderness areas inside non-contentious areas, such as Rocky Mountain National Park. Designating a wilderness inside a national park is about as risky as placing the National Mall off-limits to oil drilling.  

But Salazar's green gifts never came without a cost. In the calculus of common ground politics, trade-offs come with the territory.  

For example, Salazar, under intense pressure from Coloradoans, issued a tepid remonstrance against the Bush administration's maniacal plan to open up the Roan Plateau in western Colorado to oil drilling. But he voted to authorize oil drilling off the coast of Florida, voted against increased fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks and voted against the repeal of tax breaks for Exxon-Mobil when the company was shattering records for quarterly profits.  

On the very day that Salazar's nomination was leaked to the press, the Inspector General for the Interior Department released a devastating report on the demolition of the Endangered Species Act under the Bush administration, largely at the hands of the disgraced Julie MacDonald, former Deputy Secretary of Interior for Fish and Wildlife. The IG report, written by Earl Devaney, detailed how MacDonald personally interfered with 13 different endangered species rulings, bullying agency scientists and rewriting biological opinions. "MacDonald injected herself personally and profoundly in a number of ESA decisions," Devaney wrote in a letter to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. "We determined that MacDonald's management style was abrupt and abrasive, if not abusive, and that her conduct demoralized and frustrated her staff as well as her subordinate managers."  

What McDonald did covertly, Salazar seems to be attempting openly in the name of, yes, common ground. While Lisa Jackson and the EPA have dealt a few hefty blows to the coal industry's practice of mountaintop removal in Appalachia, in steps Salazar to hand out billions of dollars worth of public lands in Wyoming to coal companies well below market value. But common ground
has long been a theme of Salazar's political maneuvers.  

Take the case of the white-tailed prairie dog, one of the declining species that MacDonald went to nefarious lengths to keep from enjoying the protections of the Endangered Species Act. Prairie dogs are viewed as pests by ranchers and their populations have been remorselessly targeted for elimination on rangelands across the Interior West. Ken Salazar, former rancher, once threatened to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service to keep the similarly imperiled black-tailed prairie dog off the endangered species list. The senator also fiercely opposed efforts to inscribe stronger protections for endangered species in the 2008 Farm Bill.  

Progressives and green-minded voters made no demands of Obama during the election and sat silently as he backed off-shore oil drilling, pledged to build new nuclear plants and sang the virtues of the oxymoron known as clean-coal technology.  Looking back, it is easy to see the writing on the wall. The battered S&P Coal index rose by three percent on the day Obama introduced the coal-friendly Salazar as his nominee. Their investment in Salazar is now paying off dearly, at the public's expense.  
 
 

Joshua Frank is author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press. He can be reached at brickburner@gmail.com. Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is published by AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

 
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