Ken Salazar was born in Alamosa, Colorado in March 1955 and was raised, with seven siblings, in nearby Manassa. His parents were ranchers in the San Luis Valley. After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from Colorado College in 1977 and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1981, Salazar ran a private law practice for several years. Next, from 1987-1994 he served in the cabinet of Colorado Governor Roy Romer—first as chief legal counsel, then as executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
In 1994 Salazar resumed his private law practice. Four years later, he ran successfully for the office of state attorney general. In 2002 he was re-elected to that post and served as chairman of the Conference of Western Attorneys General. In 2004 he won the race for a U.S. Senate seat in Colorado; a notable organizational supporter of Salazar’s Senate campaign was the Council for a Livable World. That same year, Salazar’s older brother John was elected to represent Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District in the House of Representatives.
In 2005 Ken Salazar co-sponsored the Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act, which would have required the federal government to develop a strategy to cut U.S. oil consumption by 10 million barrels per day by the year 2031.
In 2007 Salazar co-sponsored a bill calling for more research into the possibility that America’s arid Western states might be prone to “experience the effects of climate change sooner and more intensely than most other regions.”
In November 2007 Salazar stressed the need for the U.S. to move away from fossil fuels in order to “improve our energy security and reduce our dependence on foreign oil”; reduce the likelihood that “we will continue to be entrenched in conflicts over resources in every corner of the world”; and “triumph in our fight against oil-funded extremists and terrorists.”
Throughout his tenure in the U.S. Senate, Salazar strongly opposed the George W. Bush administration’s efforts to open land in Colorado and other Western states to oil-shale development, citing concerns about “whether the [oil-shale] technology is commercially viable,… how much carbon would be emitted,… [and] what the effects would be on Western landscapes.”
Similarly, in 2008 Salazar vowed to reject all new offshore oil-drilling ventures—even if gasoline prices were to reach $10 per gallon.
For an overview of Salazar’s voting record on key legislative items during his years in the Senate, as well as the performance ratings he received from various special-interest groups, click here.
In December 2008, President-elect Barack Obama asked Salazar to head the Interior Department of his forthcoming administration. The Senate confirmed Salazar for the post on Obama’s inauguration day, January 20, 2009.
As Secretary of the Interior, Salazar has continued to aggressively block efforts to lease oil-shale rights in the Western United States, as well as efforts to initiate offshore oil- and gas-drilling projects — a position that hardened after the 2010 BP/Deepwater Horizon oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico. In a report which he issued on May 27, 2010, Salazar recommended a six-month moratorium on all deepwater drilling—notwithstanding the fact that five out of seven consulting engineers had stated that such drilling had a strong safety record, and that targeted inspections would be more sensible than a blanket moratorium.
In June 2010, federal judge Martin Feldman of Louisiana ordered Salazar and the Obama administration to lift their “arbitrary and capricious, and therefore, unlawful” ban on offshore drilling in the Gulf. The following month, when a U.S. Court of Appeals denied Salazar’s bid to put a hold on Feldman’s order, the Interior Secretary promptly concocted a second, “revised” moratorium to replace the one Feldman had nullified. Though Salazar officially “lifted” this second ban three months thereafter, he issued no additional drilling permits that year. Rather, in 2010 he actually rescinded 77 oil-lease contracts that had previously been granted—after seven full years of rigorous study and debate—during the final days of the Bush administration. Federal courts repeatedly scolded Salazar and the White House for their “determined disregard” of judicial orders and their “increasingly inexcusable” action on stalled deepwater drilling projects, to no effect.
In February 2011, Judge Feldman—complaining that the Obama administration’s “time delays at issue here are unreasonable”—ordered Salazar and the President to decide within a month whether they would grant a set of five permits for deepwater drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico. Obama and Salazar chose not to comply for several weeks, and instead issued yet another request to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay of Feldman’s order. Finally, in March 2011 Salazar gave the Shell Offshore Company permission to apply for drilling permits for three new exploratory wells off the Louisiana coast.
In mid-March 2011, Salazar angered many environmentalists when he characterized coal as “a critical component of America’s comprehensive energy portfolio,” and announced that nearly 758 million tons of Wyoming coal would go up for sale in the coming months. Soon after Salazar’s announcement, three environmental groups—Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, and WildEarth Guardians—issued a joint statement criticizing the decision.