President Barack Obama said Salazar played an "integral role" in advancing the nation's domestic energy resources.
"In his work to promote renewable energy projects on our public lands and increase the development of oil and gas production, Ken has ensured that the department's decisions are driven by the best science and promote the highest safety standards," the president said in a statement.
Salazar made few friends in the energy sector when he said it was his department's obligation to "keep the boot on the neck" of BP during operations to control the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, described the departing secretary as a patriot.
"The American people will enjoy a brighter, cleaner energy future because of Secretary Salazar," he said in a statement.
Under Salazar's watch, Washington cleared the way for an East Coast offshore wind energy transmission line in early 2012. The Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in October, meanwhile, agreed to lease 96,430 acres of land off the coast of Delaware for wind energy development.
Salazar drew fire from the oil and natural gas sector, which complained he was too stringent with opening public land to energy explorers. Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, was quoted by Bloomberg News as saying that industry leaders, however, were able to find "common ground" on some of Salazar's policies.