Ken Salazar has a right to be proud of his time at the Department of Interior. He took over a troubled agency and restored credibility while making impressive progress on a number of difficult issues affecting public lands. And while his tenure wasn't always easy or without acrimony, that's the nature of the job.
When Salazar traded his post in the U.S. Senate four years ago to lead Interior, he had a reputation as a center-left public servant with a cautious streak. We suggest he will leave Interior in March with that reputation substantially intact, although there are those who would strongly disagree notably oil and gas officials.
They say Interior under Salazar has suppressed energy production through unnecessary red tape and onerous rules. And while we have no desire to defend every regulation, the fact is that the previous administration drifted too far in the other direction.
Its Minerals Management Service had been an Animal House in which employees not only partied with industry executives but also, according to a federal probe, "had sexual relationships" with some.
"In the prior administration," Salazar said one year after being on the job, "the oil and gas industry were the kings of the world. Whatever they wanted to happen, happened." He exaggerated, to be sure, but with a grain of truth.
If anything, Salazar's Interior didn't crack down fast enough along the Gulf Coast. Indeed, before BP's Deepwater Horizon blew in April 2010, the Obama administration had been authorizing offshore permits without adequate environment reviews as fast as its predecessor.
Nor has Interior under Salazar always left environmentalists cheering. They've objected to decisions allowing limited drilling in the Arctic, lifting protections for the gray wolf in several states and refusing to use the polar bear as leverage to address climate change.
Salazar said this week that his proudest achievements include expediting justice for American Indians after years of litigation over trust lands and breaking the logjam for clean-energy projects on federal lands.
At 57, Salazar's life in the limelight may not be over, although his office told The Denver Post's Allison Sherry that family concerns in part are motivating his departure.
Whatever he chooses to do, however, we have no doubt he'll bring the same level of energy and commitment that he's exhibited during the past four years.