Barack Obama's president-elect press conference - 17 December 2008

President-elect press conference (12/17/08)
by Barack Obama

Delivered on 17 December 2008.

Earlier this week, I announced key members of the team that will help us seek new forms of energy to build a new economy, to enhance our security and to leave our children a planet that is safer and cleaner.

Today, I am extraordinarily pleased to announce two other key advisors and members of this team: Governor Tom Vilsack as secretary of Agriculture and my dear friend from the Senate, Senator Ken Salazar as secretary of the Interior. Together, they will serve as guardians of the American landscape, on which the health of our economy and the well-being of our families so heavily depend.

Now, one of the great blessings bestowed upon us as Americans is the bounty of our natural environment, from the mountains and parks where we go hiking to the rivers and streams where we go fishing to the forests and fields where the proud tradition of hunting is passed on through the generations. But our wide open spaces are not only a blessing to be enjoyed; they are the foundations of a brighter future. How we harness our natural resources -- from the farmlands of Iowa to the springs of Colorado -- will speak not only to our quality of life but to our economic growth and our energy future.

It is time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that's committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all of our families. That means ensuring that even as we are promoting development where it makes sense, we are also fulfilling our obligation to protect our national resources. It means ensuring that we are using our farmlands not only to strengthen our agricultural economy, but to grow advanced biofuels that will help make the United States energy independent. And it means ensuring that the policies being shaped at the Departments of Agriculture and Interior are designed to serve not big agribusiness or Washington influence- peddlers, but family farmers and the American people.

That's the kind of leadership embodied by Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack. Ken will bring to the Department of Interior an abiding commitment to this land that we love. His family has farmed and ranched the same land in Colorado for five generations. As a senator from the great state of Colorado, he has been a champion for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities, from building a clean energy economy to setting aside 250,000 acres of Rocky Mountain National Park as wilderness.

Before serving in the United States Senate, Ken was attorney general in Colorado, where he worked on a number of land, water and environmental issues. As a water lawyer for a decade, Ken was also chosen to lead Colorado's Department of Natural Resources. In that role, he promoted responsible water management, balanced use of our energy resources, and built one of the most successful land conservation efforts in our nation.

Few are better equipped to meet the energy and natural resource challenges we face in the 21st century. Among the many responsibilities Ken will bear as our next secretary of the Interior is helping ensure that we finally live up to the treaty obligations that are owed to the first Americans. We need more than just a government-to-government relationship; we need a nation-to-nation relationship. And Ken and I will work together to make sure that tribal nations have a voice in this administration.

And one of Ken's critical roles as well is going to be working with our energy team to make sure that we are using our natural resources in a sustainable way and developing the kind of energy independence that is so vital to our economy.

To lead a Department of Agriculture that helps unlock the potential of a 21st century agricultural economy, I can think of no one better than Tom Vilsack. As governor of one of our most abundant farm states, he led with vision, promoting biotech to strengthen our farmers in fostering an agricultural economy of the future that not only grows the food we eat, but the energy that we use. Tom understands that the solution to our energy crisis will be found not in oilfields abroad, but in our farm fields here at home. That's the kind of leader I want in my Cabinet.

As our next secretary of Agriculture, Tom will not only help ensure that rural America has a true partner in implementing the farm bill and pursuing agricultural research, but that Washington is looking out for everyone, from the small family farms that are feeding our communities to the large farms that are feeding the world.

When President Lincoln established the Department of Agriculture nearly a century and a half ago, he called it the people's department, for it meant -- it was meant to serve the interests of those who lived off the land.

And I know it will be the people's department once more when Tom is at the helm.

With the appointments I announced earlier in the week and with those I'm announcing today, I am confident that we have the team that we need to make the rural agenda America's agenda, to create millions of new green jobs, to free our nation from its dependence on oil and to help preserve this planet for our children. In the end, that's not only the responsibility of all Americans, it is our obligation as stewards of God's earth.

And with that, what I'd like to do is first introduce my great friend Senator Ken Salazar.

Salazar: I am humbled and honored to be nominated by President-elect Barack Obama to serve as secretary of Interior.

My story in America began more than 400 years ago, when my ancestors settled the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. They named that city the city of holy faith. As my family struggled for survival across 12 generations in both of those states, their faith and humanity was something that kept them sustained over the years. And it was a bedrock that made them what they are today.

Today, as I stand here, I see their faith. I see their faith shining brightly on Barack Obama. I know Barack Obama as a champion for change, and I am grateful for his confidence in me. I look forward to serving as a strong voice in his administration, for the West and for the nation.

As the nominee to be secretary of the Interior, I will do all I can to help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. I look forward to working directly with President-elect Obama as an integral part of his team. As we take the moon shot on energy independence, the energy imperative will create jobs here in America, protect our national security, and confront the dangers of global warming.

I look forward to helping build our clean-energy economy, modernize our interstate electrical grid, and ensure that we are making wise use of our conventional natural resources, including coal, oil and gas. I look forward to protecting our national parks, public plans and open spaces, and America's farm and ranch lands. I look forward to restoring our nation's rivers and working to -- to confront our water-supply challenges.

And I look forward to helping address the challenges faced by our Native American communities all across this nation.

And finally I look forward to electing or to investing in America's young people by implementing President-elect Obama's vision for youth programs across America.

I want to thank first and foremost my entire family, especially my wife Hope and daughters Melinda and Andrea. Without their courage and unwavering support, I would not be here today.

I want to thank my late father Henry and my mother Emma. As a soldier and public servant in World War II, they both instilled in me the values that enabled me and all of my siblings to live the American dream. I want to thank my seven brothers and sisters and all of my family, because they have always inspired me to reach for the stars.

I want to thank the five-million people of the State of Colorado, who gave me the privilege of serving as their chief law enforcement officer and as their attorney general and as their United States senator. I look forward to serving Colorado, the West and the nation in this new capacity. I will work hard to make the people of the State of Colorado and this country proud.

Finally I want to thank the members of the United States Senate for their dedication and for their friendship. I have been honored and blessed to serve with them, Democrats and Republicans alike. And to my wonderful staff in the United States Senate, thank you for your loyalty and your dedication to excellence.

I again thank my good friend President-elect Barack Obama. And I look forward to serving as a member of his team. Thank you.

Vilsack: Thank you, Mr. President-elect, for the confidence you've placed in me. I am truly honored and I look forward to the challenge. You articulated a compelling vision for the Department of Agriculture.

It must be about the work of improving profitability, for farmers and ranchers, and expanding opportunities in the rural communities in which they live.

It must aggressively promote policies and programs that support sustainable practices, to conserve and preserve our precious natural resources: our land, our water and our forests.

It must work in concert with other federal departments, state and local governments and the private sector to promote American leadership in response to global climate change. And it must place nutrition at the center of all food assistance programs administered by the department. It must be innovative and creative in all its work during a time of economic anxiety and limited resources.

Yes, Mr. President-elect, you have challenged the department, and the hardworking and dedicated people who work in that department will meet that challenge. As a small-town lawyer, I had the responsibility of helping farm families during tough economic times. I know these people. America's farmers and ranchers deserve a secretary of Agriculture that respects them for the contribution they make to all of us every day. I hope to be that secretary.

I look forward to working with congressional leaders who share the president-elect's vision of bringing hope to rural America, of being good stewards of our natural resources, of providing American leadership on climate change, and making America a nation truly dedicated to health and nutrition.

Again, Mr. President, thank you very much.

Obama: Thank you so much. Okay. Let's start with Cynthia Bowers, CBS.

Bowers Congratulations on &ndasb; [off-mic]

Obama: How are you, Cynthia?

Bowers: I haven't seen you since then.

Obama: Good to see you, Cynthia.

Bowers: I have a question. You ran on a platform of transparency.

Obama: Yes.

Bowers How difficult is all this having to wait to release your inquiry business, when the American people expect transparency?

Obama: Well, it's a little bit frustrating. There's been a lot of speculation in the press that I would love to correct immediately. We are abiding by the request of the U.S. Attorneys Office. But it's not going to be that long. By next week you guys will have the answers to all your questions.

Okay. Tom Beaumont. Where's Tom, my old friend from the Des Moines Register? There you are. How are you, Tom?

Beaumont: I was wondering what has happened in the month since Governor Vilsack was led to believe that he would not be the choice for secretary of Agriculture.

Obama: Well, I don't know who led him to believe that. Whoever did, obviously, was misinformed, because here he stands. Let me make a -- a -- a broader point. These two gentlemen are as accomplished a pair of public servants as we have in America.

When it comes to Ken, I don't know anybody who's got a better set of qualifications for serving as Interior secretary. He comes from a state that is as beautiful as any in the country, a western state that understands the importance of natural resources. He has been at the forefront in that state, as the head of the Department of Natural Resources, as an attorney general and as a senator, in making sure that we are balancing the imperatives of development and our energy needs with sustainability and the desire to pass on this extraordinary treasure of our land to the next generation.

And one of the qualities that I so admire in Ken is his ability to listen and to bring all parties together. When I was campaigning out west, one of the things you heard again and again was state/local officials, farmers, ranchers feeling that the Washington bureaucracy didn't hear what was taking place. Native American tribes felt that they had no access. And to have somebody like Ken in this position who is going to be able to, I think, communicate the concern of our -- of -- of our administration to people who are seeing what's happening on the ground, that'll make an extraordinary difference.

He also in the Senate has been one of our key leaders on energy independence, and so having him involved in helping us craft the bold new energy economy that I'm looking for is going to be tremendous.

Tom Vilsack has been a leader among governors when it comes to clean energy. When it comes to agriculture, obviously, if you don't know agriculture, you're not going to be the governor of Iowa. And one of the things that has struck me about Tom, though, is, as fiercely protective of family farms and the farm economy as he has been, he's also been forward-looking in thinking about, you know, how can we move towards cellulosic ethanol; how can we harness wind and solar power to give a boost to our rural economies?

And part of the reason that Iowa, during the midst of some very difficult economic times has more than held its own is because of the terrific work that Tom did when he was governor.

So together, I think this team is going to do outstanding work. I am very, very excited about their prospects.

[staffer]: Last question.

Obama: Karen Crummy, Denver Post. Hi, Karen. You can stand up so I can see you.

Crummy: Yeah, sure. You've said that you had an -- you envisioned an expanded role for your secretary of Interior. Can you give me an idea of what you mean by that, what the priorities are -- the first couple priorities and also whether or not there's a role for commercial drilling on federal lands?

Obama: Well, you know, over the last eight years, I think we've had an Interior Department that was deeply troubled. There was an editorial today in The New York Times that, I think, pointed out that the Interior Department too often has been seen as an appendage of commercial interests as opposed to a place where the values and interests of the American people are served.

And part of what I want to put an end to is an Interior Department that sees its job as simply sitting back, waiting for whoever has most access in Washington to extract what they want. I want a proactive vision of getting out, talking to people, talking to farmers, talking to ranchers, being at the cutting edge of environmental and energy policy so that commercial interests are just one group among many groups that are being listened to and being brought together to craft the kind of policies that we want to see.

Now, one of the things that Ken and I talked about before this appointment was the importance of the Interior secretary in the overall energy discussions that we're going to have. You know, Ken has experience on a lot of the issues that we're going to confront both with respect to traditional energy sources and fossil fuels as well as renewable energy.

So if there's going to be a debate about oil shale, I want Ken at the table, because he can help sort through what are legitimate claims about, you know, how productive that approach might be, versus the kind of environmental degradation that is possible if we don't do it carefully.

If I'm having a debate about windpower, with my various -- the various members of my energy team, having somebody like Ken at the table -- who can say, here's our experience in Colorado; here's what we're seeing; here's how we can drive down unit costs; here's what we'd do to set up an electricity grid that will be able to get the power from wind farms to population centers that use it -- that's going to be extraordinarily important.

So you know, I want a more proactive Interior Department. I also want an Interior Department that very frankly cleans up its act. There have been too many problems and too much, too much emphasis on big-time lobbyists in Washington and not enough emphasis on what's good for the American people. And that's going to change under Ken Salazar.

Okay. All right. Thank you very much, everybody.

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