Below are excerpts from a conversation Monday morning between U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Times reporters and editorial board members.
Dan Turner, L.A. Times: I know that you've been involved in the climate bill talks. All I hear about that is they've jettisoned cap and trade and they're looking for some other way of pricing carbon. Can you talk at all about what the prospects are?
Ken Salazar: Nothing is easy. I mean, the votes you saw yesterday on healthcare show how difficult it is to get things done in Washington these days. So we don't underestimate the kind of challenge that we have, but the president has been very clear from the first day -- which I have been a part of his team helping pull this together -- is we need to address energy and climate change and do it in a comprehensive manner. And the principals that really drive us are ones that are old but timeless, and they are national security -- we need to find a way of moving forward to a new energy future, we can't be as dependent as we have been on the Middle East and Venezuela and other places where we get our oil from.
Secondly, the economics of it. We are sending 700 billion to $1 trillion overseas for the oil that we're buying. It creates an economic dislocation as we transfer all this wealth from America to those places. So a new energy future will help us, in our view, create jobs here, as we're seeing already here in places in California.
And third, it's about clean air and dangers of pollution and what that's doing to our plant. As I see from that last point from the perch that I have as the secretary of the Interior, I know Glacier National Park will not have any glaciers by the year 2020; I know that Pelican Island, the first wildlife refuge which President Roosevelt declared in 1903, is now almost totally submerged by the rising sea; I know that in the Great Lakes, Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands, which is one of our national parks, is now seeing the surface of that lake on average being five degrees warmer than it was even 30 years ago. So the issue is not going to go away, and there are compelling imperatives for us to address it.
Now how exactly we will end up with the Congress to work on this issue, we still don't know. There's great optimism that the tri-partisan, I've heard as they call it, which my former colleagues Sen. [John] Kerry and [Joseph] Lieberman and [Lindsay] Graham, have been working on, might eventually create the window of opportunity for us to still be able to still be able to deal with energy....
So it's not over; we spent a lot of energy, all of us who are a part of the Obama team, working on healthcare because it is an important moral imperative on the part of the president. We're all part of that team. In the same way, energy and climate change are very important issues for us, and we'll continue to work on it. There are some things that we can do through our executive powers. I mean, the work we're doing on renewable energy, some of that interface is with Congress and that they have provided funding for some of these projects. But overall what we have been doing, essentially, through moving forward, for example, on solar energy, where we have a programmatic environmental impact statement on solar energy. We have set aside the thousand square miles and are looking at 24 solar study areas within those thousand square miles across the southwest. I mean all those things, we're moving forward; we're not waiting, we're moving forward through the department.
California's water infrastructure
Turner: You started out talking about California's water supply issues: It's pretty clear that nothing is settled there. I think it's deferred for year because we got a ton of rain this year, but the most recent thing of course is the National Academy of Sciences report, which everybody is claiming supports their point of view because it's kind of vague. Is there a future solution to this that you can see coming? Is there any way of resolving this, or are we just going to have another massive battle over this next year?
Salazar: I think that what's important is that people be focused in on the longer term issue as opposed to the year-by-year issue. This year was -- the thing was kept together with bail wire and tape, and we still don't know whether or not, frankly, we're going to be at a point where we're going to avoid the crisis for this year. We hope that we will be able to do that, but we're still not certain.... A lot of it depends on what happens with precipitation now during the month of March and going into April.