The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversaw a moratorium on offshore drilling after the BP oil spill and promoted alternative energy sources, announced he will step down in March — and on the short list as a possible replacement is outgoing Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Gregoire, a longtime Obama ally, was mentioned as a potential successor, along with John Berry, director of the White House Office of Personnel Management and a former assistant Interior secretary and director of the National Zoo.
Gregoire, whose term expired Wednesday, also is considered a candidate to replace Lisa Jackson at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Dicks was also mentioned
Norm Dicks, who retired after 18 terms as U.S. representative for the 6th Congressional District — which includes the North Olympic Peninsula — was mentioned in an NBC news report at the end of November as another possible successor
His spokesman, George Behan, told the Peninsula Daily News then that Dicks was not interested in becoming secretary of the Interior.
“He's flattered by it but is not intending to be Interior secretary,” Behan said then.
Behan emphasized that the idea was just speculation in the press.
NBC News also said then that Gregoire — once the director of the state Department of Ecology — and North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, also a Democrat, were under consideration.
The Huffington Post said Wednesday that Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee, also is under consideration for Salazar's position.
Salazar, a former Colorado senator, ran the Interior Department throughout President Barack Obama's first term and pushed renewable power such as solar and wind and the settlement of a longstanding dispute with American Indians.
Obama said Salazar had helped “usher in a new era of conservation for our nation's land, water and wildlife” and played a major role in efforts to “expand responsible development of our nation's domestic energy resources.”
Salazar said in a statement that the Interior Department was helping secure “a new energy frontier” and cited an aggressive agenda to reform oil and gas leases, which he said had increased offshore drilling safety.
Under his watch, the Interior Department authorized nearly three dozen solar, wind and geothermal energy projects on public lands that provide enough electricity to power more than 3 million homes, Salazar said.
Salazar, 57, entered the Senate with Obama in 2005.
At Interior, he gained the most attention for his role in the drilling moratorium, a key part of the administration's response to the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon 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.
But Salazar said the moratorium was the correct call and that his ultimate goal was to allow deepwater operations to resume safely.
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.
Throughout his tenure, Salazar tangled with oil companies.
Salazar is the latest Cabinet secretary to leave the administration and the second Hispanic Cabinet member to depart in Obama's second term. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced her departure last week.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Pentagon chief Leon Panetta, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and EPA's Jackson also have announced plans to leave.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu is widely expected to leave, though his departure has not been announced.