A coalition of more than 200 environmental and progressive groups is urging President Obama to nominate Rep. Raul Grijalva, an outspoken liberal, to be the next Interior Secretary.
In a letter to Obama, the groups—including Moveon.org, Public Citizen, and Friends of the Earth—called the Arizona Democrat a “knowledgeable, visionary leader,” praising his record on global warming and conservation issues, and his relationship with Indian tribes.
The letter was first sent last month, then re-sent Wednesday after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced he'll step down at the end of March.
Adam Sarvana, a spokesman for Grijalva, downplayed the effort.
“It’s not that he's not interested in the issues, but he enjoys his job,” Sarvana told msnbc.com, adding that Grijalva had not been contacted by the administration about the post.
But Sarvana didn’t shut the door on the idea. “If they were to call, then that's a separate discussion,” he said.
Grijalva, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was the apparent frontrunner for the Interior job when Obama first took office, according to a 2010 Washington Post report. But his skepticism about expanding oil drilling on public lands didn’t fit with the “balanced” energy approach that Obama had campaigned on. The more centrist Salazar, then a Colorado senator, ultimately got the nod.
Environmentalists say that under Salazar and his Bush administration predecessors, the Interior Department has been overly receptive to the interests of the oil, mining, and timber industries, at the expense of environmental concerns. They view Grijalva, the son of a Tucson migrant worker who now chairs the House subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, as a candidate who can shift the department’s priorities.
“We see Rep. Grijalva as a refreshing change,” Erich Pica, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, told msnbc.com. “From an environmental perspective, he’s got the credentials to start pushing this agency in a better direction."
Other potential candidates for the job are said to include Salazar’s deputy David Hayes, former Colorado governor Bill Ritter, former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, Washington governor Christine Gregoire, and John Berry, the director of the Office of Personnel and Management.