President-elect Barack Obama's pick to lead the Interior Department is promising to help wean the U.S. off foreign oil by expanding renewable energy on public lands and promoting the "wise use" of traditional energy sources.
Sen. Ken Salazar appeared Thursday before a Senate panel considering his nomination.
The Interior Department manages 500 million acres (202 million hectares) of public lands. It is charged with protecting wildlife and endangered species, while also developing energy resources.
Salazar said he would work "to make sure that we get energy independence, that we take the moonshot to energy we can take and we really set America free."
In a prepared statement, he said that would entail expanding solar and wind on public and tribal lands.
"We must also make wise use of our conventional natural resources, including coal, oil and natural gas," he said.
His remarks are another sign that the Obama administration will seek a balance between renewables and fossil fuels in its energy choices.
Earlier this week, Obama's picks to lead the Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency indicated that coal and other fossil fuels would still be part of the energy mix.
Senators will want to know what the Obama administration will do to address ethical scandals that include rigging bids, partying with oil company employees and weighing political influence when making decisions on endangered species.
Salazar said in his opening remarks that he wanted "to clean up the mess that exists in the Department of Interior."
"Even crime has been something that has happened in the Department of Interior," Salazar said. "Our first and foremost task will be to restore the integrity of the Interior Department."
When he announced his choice of Salazar, Obama called the agency "deeply troubled."
Salazar is also likely to be asked about uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and oil shale development in Western states. He sponsored a ban on the Interior Department issuing regulations for oil shale, which lapsed last year. The Bush administration opened the land for development.
In his four years in the Senate, Salazar, 53, has been a champion for what he calls "responsible" energy production on public lands. He opposed efforts by the Bush administration to open up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but helped broker a deal allowing more offshore production.
Salazar also has been a vocal advocate of renewable energy. The public lands he will oversee include some of the largest sources of wind, solar and geothermal energy in the U.S..
Prior to joining the Senate, Salazar was the Colorado attorney general and headed the state's natural resources department.
If confirmed, Salazar will lead an agency with more than 67,000 employees and a $15.8 billion federal budget.
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