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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar: Fifth member to exit Obama Cabinet

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will step down in March. Ken Salazar pushed solar and wind, but gained the most attention for his role in the offshore drilling ban after the BP Gulf oil spill.

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President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2008. Salazar is expected to announce he is stepping down, a White House official confirmed on Wednesday.

REUTERS/Jeff Haynes/Files

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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversaw a moratorium on offshore drilling after the BP oil spill, will step down in March, Obama administration officials said Wednesday.

Salazar has run the Interior Department throughout President Barack Obama's first term.

A former senator from Colorado, Salazar pushed renewable power such as solar and wind, but gained the most attention for his role in the drilling moratorium, a key part of the administration's response to the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. It was one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history and led to the unprecedented shutdown of offshore drilling.

Business groups and Gulf Coast political leaders said the shutdown crippled the oil and gas industry and cost thousands of jobs, even aboard rigs not operated by BP PLC.

But Salazar said the industry-wide moratorium was the correct call.

"I think we're in the right direction," he told The Associated Press during a July 2010 tour of the Gulf, adding that his ultimate goal was to allow deepwater operations to resume safely.

Salazar acknowledged that the drilling ban caused hardship, but he said his job was to protect the public and the environment even as the administration tried to boost domestic energy production.

The moratorium was lifted in October 2010, although offshore drilling operations did not begin for several more months. Some Gulf Coast lawmakers continue to complain about the slow pace of drilling permits under the Interior Department, which renamed and revamped the agency that oversees offshore drilling in the wake of the spill.

Salazar also approved the nation's first offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, off the Massachusetts coast.

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