As Ken Salazar takes the reins of the Interior Department, The New York Times writes that he’s got his work cut out for him. He “will inherit a department riddled with incompetence and corruption, captive to industries it is supposed to regulate and far more interested in exploiting public resources than conserving them.”

But Salazar will also have to contend with the Interior’s business side. As the Wall Street Journal notes, Salazar ” will be both custodian and gatekeeper for the extensive fossil-fuel resources on public lands.”

Meanwhile, the leading contenders to replace the Salazar in the U.S. Senate, all well-known Dems, have been identified.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, outgoing state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter are the top three, according to strategists cited by The Denver Post.

Governor Bill Ritter is charged with appointing the replacement at a time when Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is in steaming hot water over his approach to appointing a replacement for President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat, writes The Associated Press. Ritter fended off questions about Blagojevich and Salazar yesterday, assuring only that there will be a process.

Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer tells Talking Points Memo that an appointment could be made “as quick as possible.”