While a few of President Obama’s cabinet nominees remain to be confirmed, others such as Ken Salazar will exert enormous influence on landowners and have been hard at work since hours after the inauguration.
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
THE DEPARTMENT: Interior is the most influential department when it comes to policies affecting landowners. Covered under its jurisdictional umbrella are the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Mineral Management Services, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
THE NEW SECRETARY: A senator from Colorado since 2004, Salazar and his brother John (who serves in the US House of Representatives) and six other siblings grew up on a 1,200-acre ranch near the San Antonio River that was originally settled in the 1860s by their great-great grandfather Francisco. Their childhood home had no electricity or running water. Salazar will be one of the most recognizable cabinet secretaries, thanks to the cowboy hat he wears regularly with business attire.
THE EXPECTATIONS: Environmental and conservation groups praised Salazar’s appointment, even though he has not always been their favorite senator. Still, they like the fact that Salazar has long been an advocate of national parks protections, and a critic of oil and gas development on public lands in the Western US. Cabinet watchers believe that will translate into a rollback of George W. Bush’s moves to open some federal lands to drilling — particularly in Utah. And, landowner groups, especially ranching groups, also have had kind words so far.
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
THE DEPARTMENT: A powerhouse both in Washington and in rural America, the USDA does everything from providing support to family farmers to regulating food safety.
THE NEW SECRETARY: Vilsack was a two-term governor of Iowa when, in 2006, he became a Democratic presidential primary opponent of Obama. He dropped out after three months, eventually becoming co-chairman of Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Apparently the new president isn’t holding any grudges.
THE EXPECTATIONS: The challenges for Vilsack are significant thanks to the current recession. The credit crisis has squeezed farmers; once-hot commodities are now sinking in value; and farmers big and small are cutting jobs to stay profitable. That’s put rural America, which depends on federal policymakers for direction, market regulation, and, often, hard cash, in a worrisome mood.
DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
THE DEPARTMENT: The main regulator of industries who generate and supply power — in all its literal forms — the Energy Department also funds hundreds of scientific research projects.
THE NEW SECRETARY: Chu is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, the first Nobel winner selected to a presidential cabinet. He is also the former head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
THE EXPECTATIONS: Obama made a plethora of campaign pledges related to energy, and it’ll be Chu’s job to try and deliver. He’ll push to cap greenhouse gas emissions, change regulations related to offshore drilling, and move the U.S. away from foreign oil, in part by creating tax breaks and other incentives for development of renewable energy — including wind farms, which are of particular interest to large landowners such as T. Boone Pickens, whose Mesa Vista Ranch was featured in the Fall 2008 issue.