WASHINGTON (AP) — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who began his tenure with a pledge to help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil, will leave the Obama administration in March, Obama administration officials said Wednesday.
Salazar has run the Interior Department throughout President Barack Obama's first term. He told his confirmation hearing he would seek to expand renewable energy on public lands and promote the "wise use" of traditional energy sources.
Salazar pushed renewable power such as solar and wind, but he gained the most attention for his role in the industry-wide drilling moratorium after the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. It was one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history and led to the unprecedented shutdown of offshore drilling.
Business groups and Gulf Coast political leaders said the shutdown crippled the oil and gas industry and cost thousands of jobs, even aboard rigs not operated by BP PLC.
But Salazar said the moratorium was the correct call.
Salazar acknowledged that the drilling ban caused hardship, but he said his job was to protect the public and the environment even as the administration tried to boost domestic energy production. The moratorium was lifted in October 2010, although offshore drilling operations did not begin for several more months.
Salazar also approved the nation's first offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, off the Massachusetts coast. On land, Salazar has promoted solar power in the West and Southwest, approving an unprecedented number of projects, even as oil and gas continue to be approved on federal land.
Salazar tangled with oil companies throughout his tenure.
"We don't believe we ought to be drilling anywhere and everywhere," Salazar said in 2010, before the BP spill. "We believe we need a balanced approach and a thoughtful approach" that allows development of oil and gas leases on public lands while also protecting national parks, endangered species and municipal watersheds.
Salazar criticized the Bush administration for what he called a "headlong rush" to lease public lands.
"In the prior administration the oil and gas industry were the kings of the world. Whatever they wanted to happen, happened," Salazar said in January 2010, adding that those days were over.
Salazar, 57, is the latest Cabinet secretary to leave the administration as Obama heads into his second term. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, defense chief Leon Panetta, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis are also leaving. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is widely expected to leave, though his departure has not been announced. Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson has announced that she will leave.
The administration officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly before announcement of Salazar's plans.
Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Matthew Daly contributed.