SALAZAR TO INTERIOR…. There’d been a few rumors about likely candidates for Secretary of the Interior, but Sen. Ken Salazar’s (D-Colo.) name comes as something of a surprise. He will, apparently, accept the nomination and give up his Senate seat after just two years in the chamber. (One source familiar with the appointment process said, “It’s a done deal.”) He will also be the second Hispanic official named to Obama’s cabinet.

I can only assume Salazar didn’t enjoy life on the Hill. He’s fairly young (53) and popular among his constituents, suggesting Salazar could expect to keep his Senate seat for quite a long while. And yet, he’s trading it in for a not-especially-glamorous cabinet post, overseeing a scandal-plagued cabinet agency that oversees the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the United States Geological Survey.

In terms of political implications, Salazar’s replacement will be named by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D), and his appointed senator will be up for re-election in 2010. For Democrats, this may prove to be an improvement — Salazar has been one of the more conservative members of the caucus, and if Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper gets the nod, the party may find a more reliable vote on progressive issues. (Among the other possible successors is Rep. John Salazar, the outgoing senator’s brother.)

As for the more substantive question, is Salazar a good choice for Interior Secretary? He certainly has a background in these issues, having served as Colorado’s director of natural resources, where he championed legislation that reserved state lottery proceeds for land conservation. He’s also served on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Kate Sheppard took a look at Salazar’s record, emphasizing the senator’s work standing up to the Bush administration on oil-shale development.

Salazar got an 85 percent score from the League of Conservation Voters for his voting during the 110th Congress, and has an 81 percent lifetime score.

That’s not bad, I suppose. As McJoan put it, the left “could have done worse.”

I’d just add that the Interior Department, while hardly high-profile, is responsible for a seemingly-endless list of federal land regulations, which carry serious environmental implications. If Salazar, as a popular former senator, can leverage his stature and ties to Obama effectively, he can make a difference at the agency. And if he’s replaced by a more progressive successor in the Senate, this may be a win-win opportunity for everyone.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.