WASHINGTON (AP) — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversaw a moratorium on offshore drilling after the BP oil spill, 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.
A former senator from Colorado, Salazar pushed renewable power such as solar and wind, but 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, even aboard rigs not operated by BP PLC.
But Salazar said the industry-wide moratorium was the correct call.
"I think we're in the right direction," he told The Associated Press during a July 2010 tour of the Gulf, adding that his ultimate goal was to allow deepwater operations to resume safely.
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. Some Gulf Coast lawmakers continue to complain about the slow pace of drilling permits under the Interior Department, which renamed and revamped the agency that oversees offshore drilling in the wake of the spill.
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 also oversaw the settlement of a multibillion dispute with Native American tribes that had lingered for more than a decade.
Salazar is the latest Cabinet secretary to leave the administration as Obama heads into his second term. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Pentagon chief Leon Panetta, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis are also leaving.
The administration officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly before announcement of Salazar's plans.