Obama Names Salazar As Secretary of Interior

President-elect Barack Obama has made two more cabinet appointments - Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar as interior secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary. Video by AP
By Juliet Eilperin, Philip Rucker and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 17, 2008; 12:43 PM

President-elect Barack Obama today nominated Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) as interior secretary and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack to be secretary of agriculture, adding two centrists with considerable government experience to his nearly complete Cabinet roster.

Salazar, a fifth-generation Coloradan whose family settled in the West before the United States' founding and has ranched and farmed on the same land in the San Luis Valley for more than a century, is better known for brokering deals between warring interests than for outlining an ambitious agenda of conservation. In four years in the Senate, he has pushed to temper energy exploration in the West even as he has backed offshore oil drilling and subsidies for ranchers on public land.

Vilsack, a strong proponent of ethanol who made a brief bid for the presidency in 2007, will lead a sprawling federal bureaucracy charged with overseeing farm subsidies, land conservation, food safety and hunger programs. He has taken a moderate position on the often controversial issue of farm subsidies, siding at times with those favoring a shift of funding in the agriculture budget from traditional subsidies to new kinds of supports for farmers that improve soil and water management.

"Together, they will serve as guardians of the American landscape on which the health of our economy and the well-being of our families so heavily depend," Obama said in introducing Salazar and Vilsack as his latest Cabinet picks. "How we harness our natural resources, from the farmlands of Iowa to the springs of Colorado, will speak not only to our quality of life, but to our economic growth and our energy future."

In a news conference in Chicago, Obama said his administration's policies at the agriculture and interior departments would be "designed to serve not big agribusiness or Washington influence-peddlers, but family farmers and the American people." He said Vilsack "understands that the solution to our energy crisis will be found not in oil fields abroad but in our farm fields here at home."

Among Salazar's other responsibilities, the new interior secretary will help "ensure that we finally live up to the treaty obligations that are owed to the first Americans," Obama said.

With this week's appointments, "I am confident that we have the team that we need to make the rural agenda America's agenda, to create millions of new green jobs, to free our nation from its dependence on oil and to help preserve this planet for our children," the president-elect told reporters.

Salazar, wearing a cowboy hat and a Western-style Bolo tie, said that if confirmed as interior secretary, "I will do all I can to help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil." He said he looks forward to working directly with Obama "as we take the moon-shot on energy independence" and "confront the dangers of global warming."

Vilsack pledged that the agriculture department would play a role in "providing American leadership on climate change and making America a nation truly dedicated to health and nutrition."

In response to questions, Obama said the Interior Department has been "deeply troubled" under the Bush administration and "too often has been seen as an appendage of commercial interests as opposed to a place where the values and interests of the American people are served." He said he wants a "more proactive Interior Department" rather than one "that sees its job as simply sitting back waiting for whoever has most access in Washington to extract what they want."

"I also want an Interior Department that, very frankly, cleans up its act," Obama said. "There have been too many problems and too much emphasis on big-time lobbyists in Washington and not enough emphasis on what's good for the American people, and that's going to change under Ken Salazar."

Both environmentalists and food industry leaders reacted positively to Vilsack's nomination.

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