Last week, I pondered whether President Obama should fire Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar. If you notice, this past week, Salazar has not been in front of the camera or making many public statements. He’s no longer directly in the line of fire and probably in part because of his clumsy performance with cliched statements about putting his boot on BP’s neck and sending his deputy to the Gulf without a change of underwear. It looked like Ken Salazar had been taking a siesta for the past several weeks under his big ten gallon hat.
To lessen Salazar’s credibility in holding BP accountable, people are beginning to ask questions about Sylvia Baca, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. Prior to being offered this job by Secretary Salazar, Baca was general manager for Social Investment Programs and Strategic Partnerships at BP America Inc. in Houston. She had served in several management positions since 2001. In addition, Baca served in the Clinton administration as the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management in the Department of Interior. So essentially, Baca took a detour through the revolving door and ended up back at Interior with a job offer from Ken Salazar.
When President Obama began his term in January 2009, he issued an executive order to limit lobbyist involvement in government. Much was made of this ban because it made filling appointments a bit more difficult. Of course, some people who may have technically not been ‘registered lobbyists’ were able to work their way back into government circumventing the order. But the spirit and intent of this move was to prevent the collusive nature of government and business. Putting someone like Baca back in the Department of Interior (although she may have not been a registered lobbyist in any capacity at BP) gives one reason to pause considering the new policy President Obama was attempting to sell to the public. What was Ken Salazar thinking?
Baca has already been involved in a controversial program to remove wild horses off of public land and onto private land purchased on the tax payer’s dime. The Desert Independent reports the following:
“Six months after beginning her second stint at DOI, Baca attended the December 2009 BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board Meeting in Reno, representing the “Salazar Plan” to the Board. The Plan would move 26,000 wild horses from the West to preserves in the East and Midwest, on private land purchased with taxpayer dollars. “The Plan requires hundreds of millions of dollars for land acquisitions, yet it’s being sold as an eco-tourism opportunity. People are thrilled by the sight of mustangs running free, by battling stallions and long-legged foals,” states Phantom Stallion series author Terri Farley who attended the meeting. “But this Plan takes our wild horses off public lands, castrates all stallions and sends segregated, non-reproducing animals to pastures back East. It’s expensive, unnecessary and cruel. And for what? Most tax-payers would choose the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing mustangs in the wild, over funding more grazing cows and more oil and gas installations pounding away.”
During a break in the meeting in Reno, Cloud Foundation Director Ginger Kathrens, used the opportunity to say hello to Secretary Baca and show her pictures of the Calico horses of northwestern Nevada. The horses were slated for a dead of winter removal because, BLM contended, they might starve if left on their half-million acre home range. “Craig Downer had taken wonderful pictures of the wild horses and then enlarged them for the Board to see,” said Kathrens. “When I showed her the pictures and called her attention to the health and beauty of the horses, she stated it didn’t look like they had anything to eat and walked away.”
Then in April 2010, the Cloud Foundation scheduled a meeting with BLM Director Bob Abbey in an attempt to find solutions to the management difficulties within the Wild Horse and Burro Program and to work collaboratively with the BLM. Deputy Secretary Baca attended that meeting “and we were met with open hostility from her,” states Kathrens. “At one point she indicated we should thank them (the BLM) for not euthanizing the wild horses held in holding corrals, intimating that they had the legal authority to do so.””
Baca’s response to the public is troubling, especially since she is supposed to be a steward of the land and environment.
Because people are questioning oil industry insiders who are serving in administration, the Department of Interior has issued the following statement:
“Salazar spokesperson Kendra Barkoff issued a statement noting that Baca, under federal government ethics standards, “has been and is recused from participating personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which BP is or represents a party, for a period of two years following her appointment.” She also noted that Baca is not working on offshore drilling at the agency (her post deals with on-shore drilling).”
Whether its on or offshore drilling, the appointment of Baca, who spent years at BP, undermines the credibility of the Department of Interior and their efforts to hold BP accountable. The Baca appointment shows that Latinos can also spin through the revolving door, much like any other political appointee. Salazar was supposed to clean up the corruption in the Department of Interior, but placing foxes in the hen house creates the impression of a conflict of interest and does little to inspire the public’s faith in this agency.