- Created on 16 January 2013
(CNN) -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who led the response to the 2010 BP oil spill and administered a moratorium on offshore drilling, announced Wednesday that he is stepping down.
The former Colorado lawmaker plans to return home in March after eight turbulent and busy years in Washington, four years in the U.S. Senate and four years as head of the Interior Department.
President Obama nominated him for the Cabinet post four years ago and he was unanimously confirmed.
He was most prominent when he spearheaded the administration reaction to the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Salazar issued a six-month drilling moratorium after the April 20, 2010, explosion.
Critics, including Republican leaders, Gulf state officials and Gulf Coast residents, slammed the ban. They said it would hurt oil and gas workers in the already hard-hit coastal communities, where hundreds of jobs were lost because of the disaster.
But Salazar said the moratorium provided time to make sure that similar accidents wouldn't occur and that rig operators were prepared to deal with worst-case scenarios if they did happen again.
Eleven people died in the explosion, which spawned one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. An estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf before the broken well some 4,000 feet below the surface was capped.
"We have undertaken the most aggressive oil and gas safety and reform agenda in U.S. history, raising the bar on offshore drilling safety, practices and technology and ensuring that energy development is done in the right way and in the right places," Salazar said in an Interior Department news release announcing his departure.
The department has offered millions of acres of offshore acreage in the Gulf for exploration and "is proceeding with cautious exploration of Arctic resources," the release said. It added that the department has leased millions of acres onshore for oil and gas development and has protected "special landscapes for hunting and fishing."
"Today, drilling activity in the Gulf is surpassing levels seen before the spill, and our nation is on a promising path to energy independence," said Salazar, who also overhauled Interior's management of oil and gas resources and installed new ethics standards for employees.
Salazar also has pursued renewable energy, with his department authorizing 34 solar, wind and geothermal projects on public lands since 2009, the news release said. Those projects total enough energy to power more than 3 million homes.
"Today, the largest solar energy projects in the world are under construction on America's public lands in the West, and we've issued the first leases for offshore wind in the Atlantic," Salazar said in the release. "I am proud of the renewable energy revolution that we have launched.
The release also noted progress made during Salazar's term regarding Native American lands. A settlement was reached and passed that addressed "long-standing injustices" involving the government's trust management.
In addition, Obama signed into law water rights settlements that "help deliver clean drinking water" to tribes, the release said, and spearheaded a reform of surface leasing regulations for Native American lands.
"President Obama has made it a priority to empower our nation's first Americans by helping to build stronger, safer and more prosperous tribal communities," Salazar said.
Obama, in a separate release, said Salazar "helped usher in a new era of conservation for our nation's land, water, and wildlife" and promoted renewable energy along with oil and gas production. He "played an integral role in my administration's successful efforts to expand responsible development of our nation's domestic energy resources" and made strides in ties with Native Americans.
"I have valued Ken's friendship since we both entered the Senate in 2005, and I look forward to receiving his counsel even after he returns to his home state of Colorado," the president said.
Salazar's move comes amid criticism over Obama's second-term Cabinet nominees. He has taken flak because major nominations have gone to white males.
White males have been tapped for three prominent Cabinet positions with second-term openings: secretary of state, secretary of defense and secretary of the treasury. One of those posts has been held by a woman, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while the others have been held by white men.
While Obama's record of appointing women to top posts doesn't differ significantly from that of former President George W. Bush, many take the issue with Obama's appointments since he ran as a champion of women's issues during both of his presidential election campaigns, unlike his predecessor.
CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger reported from Washington. CNN's Joe Sterling reported from Atlanta.
- Created on 16 January 2013
(CNN) -- As President Barack Obama announces a package of proposals to limit gun violence, a new national survey indicates that his approval rating may be edging up.
The CNN/Time Magazine/ORC International poll also indicates that a majority of Americans support stricter gun control laws in the wake of the shooting rampage at an elementary school in Connecticut.
And according to the survey, nearly six in ten approve of the job Vice President Joe Biden is doing, slightly higher than the number who approve of his boss. The vice president led a task force in the wake of the shootings that came up with specific proposals for the president on how to reduce gun violence in the country.
The president's approval rating stands at 55% in the poll, which was released Wednesday, with 43% saying they disapprove of the job Obama is doing in the White House. The president's approval rating is up three points from mid December CNN/ORC poll that was conducted just days after a suicidal gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Of those who disapprove, 34% say they disapprove because Obama is too liberal, with 7% saying they give the president a thumbs down because he's not liberal enough.
More than nine in ten Democrats approve of the job Obama's doing. That number drops to 51% for independent voters, with just 13% of Republicans approving of the president's performance in office. The poll also indicates a gender gap, with women approving of the job Obama's doing by a 59%-39% margin, and men divided (51%-48%).
The Vice President's approval rating stands at 59%, with 38% saying they disapprove of the job he is doing. Biden's approval rating is up five points from last month. Besides leading the task force on curbing gun violence, Biden also had a high profile role, along with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, in striking a deal that temporarily averted the country going over the fiscal cliff.
According to the poll, 55% favor stricter gun control laws, with 37% saying that they strongly support such laws. Forty-four percent oppose such measures, including 27% who say they strongly oppose stricter gun control laws.
"Those numbers suggest that the change in public opinion in the wake of Newtown may come mostly in the intensity of feelings for and against gun control," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Gun control opponents in the past have developed a reputation for holding stronger views on the issue than supporters of gun control. But in the current poll, about two-thirds of those who favor stricter gun control laws feel strongly about that. That's a bit higher than the six in ten gun control opponents who strongly oppose stricter gun control. How strongly Americans feel about gun control may matter more to the success or failure of legislation tan the overall numbers."
The CNN/Time Magazine poll was conducted by ORC International Monday and Tuesday (Jan. 14-15), with 814 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.
- Created on 16 January 2013
(CNN) -- As law enforcement agencies finalize security preparations for Barack Obama's second inauguration, an FBI official said Tuesday authorities have "no credible corroborated threats to any of the activities."
Debra Evans Smith, the FBI's acting assistant director in charge of its Washington field office, said the FBI will have specialized personnel ready to go to meet any security challenge.
"We will have our SWAT team, pretty much all of our specialty teams will be available and on standby to include (weapons specialists), our dive team, our intelligence team -- working around the clock -- our hostage negotiators, (and) our special agent bomb technicians will also be available," Smith told reporters.
Smith made her comments at an event in which the Secret Service showed the news media the Multi-Agency Communications Center known as the MACC, located in a Washington suburb. Representatives from 42 agencies including the Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Capitol Police, Washington's Metropolitan Police Department, U.S. Park Police and the military will work at the MACC during the inauguration and share incoming information about any security issues. The room is filled with screens that will have live video feeds of key locations around the city.
A Secret Service official said it is important to have one place where all the agencies are working together. "They can give us information and then we can ensure that everybody's reading from the same script," said agency spokesman Ed Donovan. "And one of the goals for us is to provide as close to real-time information as we can to all these agencies."
"Obviously there's always some concern that something could go wrong," said Chief Cathy Lanier of the Metropolitan Police Department. "But I feel extremely confident that if something does happen, you have the most capable people in the United States here that will respond and react quickly... but we're hoping that nothing bad does happen."
Donovan noted that there were no major security incidents at the last inauguration although there was a problem with people who had tickets not being able to get into the events. He said this year there will be more signage, more volunteers on site to direct people, and more information on social media sites.
Although security will be tight, authorities hope the public will not hesitate to report any suspicious activity.
"Law enforcement is limited but the public is not," said Smith of the FBI. "And anyone who can provide information that will give us a lead on something that we should know about is really the most important thing that anyone can do in this regard."
- Created on 16 January 2013
(CNN) -- The year 2012 was declared the globe's 10th warmest since record keeping began in 1880 and the warmest ever for the Lower 48 U.S. states, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center.
Last year also marked the 36th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th century average, the federal agency said Tuesday.
"All 12 years to date in the 21st century (2001 to 2012) rank among the 14 warmest in the 133-year period of record (keeping). Only one year during the (20th) century --- 1998 --- was warmer than 2012," the center said.
In 2012, the contiguous United States experienced its warmest year since national record keeping began in 1895, the agency said. The new record broke the prior one, set in 1998, by 1 degree Fahrenheit, the center said.
The year's average temperature of 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit across the Lower 48 was more than 3.2 degrees warmer than the average for the 20th century, NOAA reported earlier this month.
Every state in the contiguous United States saw above-average temperatures in 2012, with 19 of them setting annual records of their own, NOAA said this month. Meanwhile, the country faced 11 weather disasters that topped $1 billion in losses each, including a lingering drought that covered 61% of the country at one point.
That drought shriveled crops across the American farm belt, which is expected to cause a rise in food prices in 2013, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. It also turned forests of the mountain West into stands of tinder that exploded into catastrophic wildfires over the summer, scorching millions of acres and destroying hundreds of homes.
In October, Superstorm Sandy, a post-tropical cyclone, killed more than 110 people in the United States and nearly 70 more in the Caribbean and Canada. Damage estimates from the storm run around $80 billion in New York and New Jersey alone.
At the same time Tuesday, the world's warming trend was blamed for the postponement of a sled dog race in Minnesota.
The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon and Mid-Distance Races were rescheduled to March 10 from January 27 because of scant snow.
"For the third time in six years, we've had to cancel or reschedule the Beargrease sled dog race due to lack of snow," race coordinator Pat Olson said.
"We recently had a big rain storm. Rain, but no snow, which messed up the trails. Lots of people [in the sled dog racing community] are doing what we're doing. There was a race scheduled for last weekend and this weekend, and both of those races were forced to be rescheduled due to lack of snow," Olson said.
One musher cited global warming -- disputed by some analysts and politicians -- as an explanation.
"Last year all but one sled dog race was canceled in Minnesota," said Peter McClelland, a sled dog marathon racer and operator of a sled tour business in Minnesota. "Over the past five years, we've lost a month of snowy weather on either side of the typical winter season. That's a big deal, to lose a month when your season is only four months out of the year.
"It seems to be that this is a just a climate change issue," McClelland continued. "Temperatures are going up. Historically we used to have snow by Thanksgiving, but that hasn't happened for over a decade."
The 400-mile marathon race is regarded as one of the most famous dog sled races, held on Minnesota's North Shore, along the usually frosty Lake Superior.
Last year, the Beargrease races were canceled because of "lack of snow and poor trail conditions," the race's board of directors said.
- Created on 16 January 2013
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has released a scathing 35-second ad admonishing President Barack Obama for his “hypocrisy” in demanding “gun free zones” for our children, but enjoying armed secret service protection for his daughters, Sasha and Malia.
“Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” a narrator asks. “Then why is he skepti