Interior Secretary, Colorado native Ken Salazar to resign

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Ken Salazar visits the Waldo Canyon Fire burn area on July 9, 2012.

Ken Salazar visits the Waldo Canyon Fire burn area on July 9, 2012.

DENVER — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Wednesday that he will step down from his position in President Obama’s Cabinet to spend time with his family on his ranch in Colorado.

The former Colorado U.S. senator, who was appointed in late 2008, is expected to stay on with the administration until the end of March. 

“Colorado is and will always be my home,” said Salazar. “I have had the privilege of reforming the Department of the Interior to help lead the United States in securing a new energy frontier, ushering in a conservation agenda for the 21st century, and honoring our word to the nation’s first Americans.”

The White House quickly responded to Salazar’s announcement with a statement from the president.

“Ken has played an integral role in my Administration’s successful efforts to expand responsible development of our nation’s domestic energy resources,” President Obama said. “In his work to promote renewable energy projects on our public lands and increase the development of oil and gas production, Ken has ensured that the Department’s decisions are driven by the best science and promote the highest safety standards.”

Salazar’s term will be remembered mostly for the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history that led to an unprecedented shutdown of offshore drilling.

Republicans slammed the six-month moratorium, which they argued was unnecessarily slowing business in the Gulf.

Following the disaster, Salazar also oversaw the transformation of the department’s offshore drilling regulatory agency, the Minerals Management Service, which had been accused of being too cozy with industry; some environmentalists criticized Salazar for failing to do so earlier, as he promised at the start of his tenure.

Under Salazar, the Minerals Management Service was broken into three separate entities, separately focusing on leasing, enforcement and revenue collection.

Salazar will leave the department without having finalized landmark rules by the Bureau of Land Management to govern fracking for natural gas and oil on public lands.

Salazar initially predicted that the rules would be finished by the end of 2012, but that has been pushed back to sometime this year to allow the department to review an estimated 170,000 comments.

His departure marks the latest in a series of high-profile resignations from the president’s Cabinet.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are among those leaving.

Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, on the list of possible replacements for Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who has yet to announce he’s stepping down, could also be a possible replacement for Salazar.