WASHINGTON – Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall voted Wednesday to confirm Sally Jewell as Secretary of the Interior, approving her to take over the department from Ken Salazar, a former senator from Colorado.
In January, Salazar announced his intentions to step down from the Cabinet position and return to Colorado. The fifth-generation Coloradan was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 but moved to President Barack Obama’s Cabinet in 2009 before completing his term.
Bennet, the Denver Public Schools superintendent in 2009, filled the last two years of Salazar’s Senate term before winning the seat in 2010.
The Senate endorsed Jewell, the Recreational Equipment Inc. (known as REI) chief executive, by an 87-11 vote Wednesday afternoon. Jewell also is a former oil engineer and commercial banker.
During a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing last month, Udall questioned Jewell about public lands management, her private-sector background and interagency cooperation to fight wildfires.
Jewell testified that she’d already met with U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to discuss the two agencies working together on wildfire issues.
“Coming up with a rational solution to try and get ahead of that game and work together I think is going to be critically important,” she said at the committee hearing.
Through her testimony, Jewell has demonstrated that she understands the importance of public lands and energy to the economy, particularly in Colorado, said Udall spokesman Mike Saccone in a telephone interview Thursday.
The Congressional Research Service estimates that the Department of Interior manages more than 9.1 million acres of land in Colorado, according to Udall’s office.
“For Colorado, it’s such an important Cabinet position because it plays a really big role,” said Bennet spokesman Adam Bozzi in a telephone interview Thursday. “It’s important to Sen. Bennet that the Secretary of the Interior understands what people in Colorado are saying and why when making decisions that come out of that agency.”
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, echoed Udall’s and Bennet’s sentiments in a statement.
“The people of the 3rd District and state of Colorado rely on public lands for energy, water, world-class recreation and thousands of jobs,” he said. “I’m hopeful that Sally Jewell will keep this in mind and work to protect our precious open spaces, as well as the critical jobs tied to them in her duties as Interior Secretary.”
But as Jewell begins her work in the government, Salazar is ending his.
The country, and Colorado, has been “lucky” to have a leader like Salazar, Saccone said.
“He gets Colorado, he gets the issues we face in the West,” Saccone said of the outgoing secretary. “Ken understood that we don’t inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children.”
Born in Alamosa, Salazar was also the Colorado attorney general, first elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2002. He was known for his bolo ties, cowboy hat and boots, and inherited a department that was fraught with scandal, allegations of incompetence and ethical lapses, The Associated Press reported upon Salazar’s unanimous confirmation.
But during his term, Salazar worked to “usher in a new era of conservation,” according to a White House news release issued when Salazar announced he would step down. The statement cited Salazar’s successes in promoting renewable-energy projects, and strengthening ties with Indian Country.
“Secretary Salazar has been an exemplary leader for Colorado, both as a senator and as a secretary,” Bozzi said. “He’s legendary in our state.”
Stefanie Dazio is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.