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Sen. Salazar Appointment Draws Mixed Reaction

Audio for this story will be available at approx. 7:00 p.m. ET

All Things Considered, December 16, 2008 Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) is apparently President-elect Barack Obama's choice to be Interior secretary, a position usually reserved for Westerners. But Salazar is getting mixed reviews at best from environmentalists and public lands advocates, while agricultural and mining interests are relieved.

Environmentalists Fuming Over Salazar's New Post

Emmanuel Dunand

Then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) appear at a September campaign rally for Obama at the Colorado State Fair Grounds in Pueblo. AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Obama's apparent pick to head the Department of the Interior has angered environmentalists who supported him during the election.

Citing anonymous sources, media outlets are reporting that Obama is close to announcing that Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar will be his nominee for Interior secretary.

Salazar is a rancher and considered a moderate Democrat. He is rarely seen without his trademark cowboy boots and hat. In public settings a favorite topic is economic development for rural America. Environmentalists were hoping instead for a loyal ally of the movement such as Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) or Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA).

Last week, more than 150 environmental groups signed a letter to Obama specifically backing Grijalva.

"We've seen his record that's very strong in regard to public lands and endangered species," said Oregon Wild spokesman Sean Stevens. "And I don't think we have the same sort of confidence in Ken Salazar. Hopefully we can grow to have that confidence."

Adds Kieran Suckling of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity: "Ken Salazar is very closely tied to ranching and mining and very traditional, old-time, Western, extraction industries. We were promised that an Obama presidency would bring change."

Among those cheering the apparent Salazar nomination are the mining and agriculture industries, which generally backed Republican John McCain for president.

"I first heard it Monday and was excited because I have worked with him when I used to live in Colorado," said Laura Skaer, executive director of the Northwest Mining Association. "I know that he's fair and balanced."

The secretary of the Interior, perhaps more than any other Cabinet post, affects the lives of rural Americans, many of whom depend on natural resource development for their living.

"So the people I represent in rural communities are going to want somebody as secretary of the Interior that understands rural issues," said Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance.

"It looks like many of the folks that might be opposing or upset about Sen. Salazar's appointment are activist groups from urban areas," said Keppen.

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