WASHINGTON -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's announcement Wednesday that he is stepping down at the end of March leaves his successor to grapple with contentious issues including drilling in Arctic waters off Alaska and fracking for natural gas and oil on public lands.
Names mentioned as potential replacements include outgoing Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, former North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan and former Govs. Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming and Bill Ritter of Colorado. Environmental groups are pushing for Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva to get the job.
Mr. Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado, said he is leaving the Cabinet position after four years to return his home state.
As interior secretary, he responded to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest offshore spill in U.S. history, and imposed a temporary moratorium on offshore drilling permits in the wake of the disaster.
Also, The New York Times was reporting that President Barack Obama is planning to elevate a key national security deputy, Denis McDonough, to White House chief of staff. Administration officials said Wednesday that they expect an announcement early next week.
Euro-U.S. space plans
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to get astronauts beyond Earth's orbit.
Europe will provide the propulsion and power compartment for NASA's new Orion crew capsule, officials said Wednesday. This so-called service module will be based on Europe's supply ship used for the International Space Station.
Orion's first trip is an unmanned mission in 2017. Any extra European parts will be incorporated in the first manned mission of Orion in 2021.
NASA's human exploration chief, Bill Gerstenmaier, said both missions will be aimed at the vicinity of the moon. The exact details are being worked out; lunar fly-bys, rather than landings, are planned.
College campus shooting
HAZARD, Ky. -- A 12-year-old girl who was shot in a community college parking lot died Wednesday, a day after her father and cousin were killed in the same shooting.
A former boyfriend of the girl's cousin surrendered to police after Tuesday's shooting, which occurred after the couple exchanged their 2-year-old son for visitation. The boy was not injured. The boy's mother had recently signed up for classes at Hazard Community and Technical College.
Sanford eyes Congress
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina governor whose career and marriage crumbled as he pursued a relationship with an Argentine woman, on Wednesday made official his decision to run for Congress.
The seat opened up last month, when Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Rep. Tim Scott, a favorite of the Tea Party, to replace the conservative Republican Jim DeMint in the Senate. Mr. DeMint stepped down to run the Heritage Foundation.
Also in the nation ...
The first strike of New York City school bus drivers in three decades began Wednesday, leaving more than 100,000 children and their parents to negotiate new ways to class on a soggy, cold winter morning. ... Nearly 30 people connected to the waste hauling and disposal business in and around New York City were arrested Wednesday on racketeering and other charges, a spokeswoman for the FBI said.