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Posts Tagged ‘Secretary Ken Salazar’

DAVID HELVARG, Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2010

President Obama’s decision to have Interior Secretary Ken Salazar open vast new areas of federal ocean waters to offshore oil drilling is no surprise. In his State of the Union address, the president explained that his vision for a clean energy future included offshore drilling, nuclear power and clean coal. Unfortunately, that’s like advocating a healthy diet based on fast-food snacking, amphetamines and low-tar cigarettes.

If the arguments you hear in the coming days for expanded drilling sound familiar, it’s because they’ve been repeated for generations. We’ve been hearing promises about safer drilling technologies since before Union Oil began drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel. And if you don’t remember what happened that time, you should. Soon after the wells were bored, one of them blew out in January 1969, causing a massive oil slick that slimed beaches and killed birds, fish and marine mammals. The resulting catastrophe helped spark the modern environmental movement.

The president has promised no new drilling off the West Coast, and it’s no wonder. Opposition was unified and vociferous during Salazar’s public hearing on offshore energy development in San Francisco in April 2009. More than 500 people – including Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Gov. Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, California’s lieutenant governor and four House members – testified and rallied for clean energy and against any new oil drilling.

Boxer noted that the coast was a treasure and a huge economic asset “just as is,” generating $24 billion a year and 390,000 jobs.

Still, in the new Department of Interior announcement, one can hear echoes of President Reagan’s Interior secretary, Don Hodel, who warned us in the 1980s that if we didn’t expand offshore drilling, we’d be “putting ourselves at the tender mercies of OPEC.”

We did expand offshore drilling then, not off the stunning redwood coastline of Mendocino, Calif., as Hodel wanted, but where the oil industry knew most of the oil and gas actually was and is: in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We even created a royalty moratorium for the oil companies that went after those huge deep-water fields.

But offshore drilling has done little to wean us from Middle Eastern oil. And with less than 5% of our domestic oil located offshore, more ocean drilling won’t help now either.

The only real way to quit relying on foreign oil is to wean ourselves from oil, and that’s something our leaders are unlikely to fully embrace until we’ve tapped that last reserve of sweet crude.

Nor is it likely that oil-friendly politicians in Louisiana, Alaska and Virginia, where new drilling will take place under the Obama plan, are going to embrace administration-backed climate legislation that recognizes drilling as a temporary bridge to a post-fossil-fuel world.

The only real difference in the drilling debate from 30 years ago is that back then the issue was energy versus marine pollution. Today we know it’s even more urgent. Oil, used as directed, overheats the planet.

Plus, any new platform drilled is a structural commitment to at least 30 more years of fossil fuel extraction – assuming it’s not taken out by a big storm like the jack-up rig I saw washed onto the beach at Alabama’s Dauphin Island after Hurricane Katrina.

I’ve visited offshore oil rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel and the Gulf of Mexico and was impressed by the oil patch workers I met there. The innovative technologies they use for extracting ever more inaccessible reserves of oil and gas are also impressive.

But now we need to direct that can-do spirit of innovation to large-scale carbon-free energy systems, including photovoltaics, wind turbines, biomass, hydrogen fuel cells and marine tidal, wave, current and thermal energy. The difficulties of producing energy with those technologies will make today’s drilling challenges seem simple.

I respect the roughnecks and roustabouts I’ve met who continue to practice a dangerous and challenging craft, and the contribution they’ve made to our nation’s maritime history. But I believe it’s time for them to exit the energy stage. Apparently the president does not.

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Excerpts from Environmental Leader, April 10, 2009

windmapUS Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told participants at a summit meeting “that U.S. offshore areas hold enormous potential for wind energy development in all coastal metropolitan centers, and the wind potential off the coasts of the lower 48 states could exceed electricity demand in the U.S.

The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has identified more than 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of wind potential off the Atlantic coast, and more than 900 GW of wind potential off the Pacific Coast. There are more than 2,000 MW of offshore wind projects proposed in the United States, according to the Department of Interior.

The total wind potential for the Atlantic region is 1024 gigawatts (GW), and 1 GW of wind power will supply between 225,000 to 300,000 average U.S. homes with power annually, according to U.S. Geological Survey-Minerals Management Service Report.

New Jersey is tripling the amount of wind power it plans to use by 2020 to 3,000 megawatts, or 13% of New Jersey’s total energy, according to AP. In Atlantic City alone, the local utilities authority has a wind farm consisting of five windmills that generate 7.5 megawatts, enough energy to power approximately 2,500 homes, according to the article.

The biggest potential wind power is located out in deep waters (see chart above) — 770.9 GW in the Atlantic, 891.4 GW in the Pacific and 67 GW in the Gulf, according to NREL. The laboratory assumes that about 40% of wind potential, or 185 GW, could be developed, to power about 53.3 million average U.S. homes.

But some believe Salazar’s estimates are too optimistic.

Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind, pushing to build a wind farm off Cape Cod, Mass., told the Associated Press that it would take hundreds of thousands of windmills with the average wind turbine generating between 2 to 5 megawatts per unit.

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Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, July 26, 2009

Ken SalazarJust north of the Colorado-New Mexico border, in the sunny expanses of my native San Luis Valley, America’s clean energy future is taking root.

Under President Obama’s leadership, four tracts of land in southern Colorado and two dozen tracts across six Western states may soon be supplying American homes with clean, renewable electricity from the first large-scale solar power projects on our nation’s public lands.

The 24 Solar Energy Study Areas that Interior is evaluating for environmentally appropriate solar energy development could generate nearly 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity, enough to power more than 29 million American homes.

The West’s vast solar energy potential – along with wind, geothermal and other renewables – can power our economy with affordable energy, create thousands of new jobs and reduce the carbon emissions that are warming our planet.

As President Obama has said, we can remain the world’s largest importer of oil or we can become the world’s largest exporter of clean energy. The choice is clear, and the economic opportunities too great to miss. Will we rise to the challenge?

It is time that Washington step up to the plate, just as states like Colorado and local governments are already doing. Congress must pass strong and effective legislation that will steer our nation toward a clean energy economy that creates new jobs and improves our energy security.

We will not fully unleash the potential of the clean energy economy unless Congress puts an upper limit on the emissions of heat-trapping gases that are damaging our environment. Doing so will level the playing field for new technologies by allowing the market to put a price on carbon, and will trigger massive investment in renewable energy projects across the country.

We are also seeing the dangerous consequences of climate change: longer and hotter fire seasons, reduced snow packs, rising sea levels and declines of wildlife. Farmers, ranchers, municipalities and other water users in Colorado and across the West are facing the possibility of a grim future in which there is less water to go around.

But with comprehensive clean energy legislation from Congress, sound policies and wise management of our nation’s lands and oceans, we can change the equation.

That is why I am changing how the federal government does business on the 20% of the nation’s land mass and 1.75 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf that we oversee. We are now managing these lands not just for balanced oil, natural gas, and coal development, but also – for the first time ever – to allow environmentally responsible renewable energy projects that can help power President Obama’s vision for our clean energy future.

American business is responding to these new opportunities. Companies are investing in wind farms off the Atlantic seacoast, solar facilities in the Southwest and geothermal energy projects throughout the West. We need comprehensive legislation that will create new jobs, promote investment in a new generation of energy technology, break our dependence on foreign oil, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Let us rise to the energy challenges of our time.

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Cherry Creek News Staff, March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – In a joint statement issued today Secretary of the Interior (DOI), Ken Salazar and Acting Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Jon Wellinghoff announced that the two agencies have confirmed their intent to work together to facilitate the permitting of renewable energy in offshore waters.

“Our renewable energy is too important for bureaucratic turf battles to slow down our progress. I am proud that we have reached an agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding our respective roles in approving offshore renewable energy projects. This agreement will help sweep aside red tape so that our country can capture the great power of wave, tidal, wind and solar power off our coasts,” Secretary Salazar said.

“FERC is pleased to be working with the Department of the Interior and Secretary Salazar on a procedure that will help get renewable energy projects off the drawing board and onto the Outer Continental Shelf,” Acting FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said.

Below is the joint Statement between DOI and FERC signed by Secretary Salazar and Acting Chairmain Wellinghoff:

JOINT STATEMENT BY THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR AND THE ACTING CHAIRMAN OF THE FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES ON THE OUTER CONTINENTAL SHELF

The United States has significant renewable energy resources in offshore waters, including wind energy, solar energy, and wave and ocean current energy.

Under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Minerals Management Service, has the authority to grant leases, easements, and rights-of-way on the outer continental shelf for the development of oil and gas resources. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 amended the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to provide the Interior Department with parallel permitting authority with regard to the production, transportation, or transmission of energy from additional sources of energy on the outer continental shelf, including renewable energy sources.

The Interior Department’s responsibility for the permitting and development of renewable energy resources on the outer continental shelf is broad. In particular, the Department of the Interior has permitting and development authority over wind power projects that use offshore resources beyond state waters.

Interior’s authority does not diminish existing responsibilities that other agencies have with regard to the outer continental shelf. In that regard, under the Federal Power Act, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has the statutory responsibility to oversee the development of hydropower resources in navigable waters of the United States. “Hydrokinetic” power potentially can be developed offshore through new technologies that seek to convert wave, tidal and ocean current energy to electricity. FERC will have the primary responsibility to manage the licensing of such projects in offshore waters pursuant to the Federal Power Act, using procedures developed for hydropower licenses, and with the active involvement of relevant federal land and resource agencies, including the Department of the Interior.

We have requested our staffs to prepare a short Memorandum of Understanding that sets forth these principles, and which describes the process by which permits and licenses related to renewable energy resources in offshore waters will be developed.

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EVAN LEHMANN, The New York Times, March 17, 2009

The oceans might not be big enough for sharp-elbowed renewable energy developers. Aspiring power producers are claiming sweeping stretches of sea along the East Coast, sometimes overlapping each other and igniting modern-day allegations of “claim jumping.”

Open water miles from shore is the newest frontier for prospectors, as vague notions persist about who in the federal government presides over the ocean depths. A jurisdictional dispute between two federal agencies — the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — is encouraging a “Wild West” atmosphere, as one participant described the accelerating race to grab chunks of seafloor for energy development.

The impasse has led competing prospectors to claim the same areas of ocean off New Jersey’s coast, citing authority from different federal agencies. Wind developers are accusing Seattle-based Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Co. of taking advantage of the regulatory uncertainty to snatch a 200-square-mile swath of ocean for a proposed wave and wind energy project through FERC.

Smaller patches within that area had already been identified for wind farms approved by the state and been given a preliminary green light by MMS.

“They are all around us,” Chris Wissemann, founder of Deepwater Wind, said of Grays Harbor. State regulators awarded development rights to Deepwater Wind last fall to build a 350-megawatt wind farm about 20 miles off the shore with PSEG Renewable Generation.

But now the Grays Harbor site is “completely overlapping” the smaller 20-square-mile area of ocean identified by Deepwater Wind, Wissemann added, noting that his project is at “full stop.” The sprawling Grays Harbor parcel also encompasses a second wind project, proposed by Bluewater Wind, which plans to erect about 100 turbines over 24 square miles.

Wind developers and state officials are pressing FERC to deny Grays Harbor’s permit. A decision could come this spring.

‘Wild West’ goes to sea

The confusion is the offspring of dueling federal agencies. The Minerals Management Service is generally considered the landlord of the ocean floor, and has been working for three years on new rules to provide leases for wind farms on the outer continental shelf. There is no dispute about its authority over wind projects, as outlined in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been arguing for two years that it maintains jurisdiction over hydrokinetic projects — those that tap the power of waves and currents — under the Federal Power Act.

That leaves developers of both wind and wave technologies vulnerable to each other. Preliminary permits are easy to get, and that can lead to “a lot of gamesmanship” in areas known to have good energy prospects, said Carolyn Elefant, a lawyer with the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition.

“There are a lot of people who have these visions of flipping sites, selling sites, jumping claims and making people buy them off,” she said. “It’s the Wild West.”

That “back and forth” struggle between the two agencies stalled the release of MMS’s new rule on offshore renewable energy projects at the close of George W. Bush’s presidency, according to Michael Olsen, a former deputy assistant secretary in the Interior Department, who worked on the rule. Developers say the delay has prevented the offshore industry from growing.

“There was a tremendous push at the end of the last administration” to finalize the rule, Olsen said an event sponsored by the Energy Bar Association yesterday. “And it was delayed because of this dispute.”

‘Permit flippers’ vs. ‘mafiosos’

Grays Harbor is at the center of that storm. Run by Burton Hamner, who has experience in coastal management, the company in October plunged into the race to build the first offshore power generation project on the East Coast.

It applied for six interim leases from FERC, a move that would give it priority over hundreds of square miles off the coasts of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and several other states. The move could essentially secure those areas for three years, sidelining other wind companies that had already gone through a competitive selection process with the state of New Jersey and that are now waiting on the MMS rule before moving forward.

“I could literally have my equipment on a boat and receive a letter from FERC saying, ‘You have no right to do this because we have a competing set of regs,'” said Wissemann of Deepwater Wind, which might wait to build a data-collecting test tower until the dispute is settled.

A group of nine U.S. lawmakers, mostly from the East Coast, assailed Grays Harbor’s move — without mentioning the company — as “claim jumping” in a letter last week to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Some wind developers are furious, saying Hamner is “site banking” stretches of ocean with an eye toward trading in real estate, not clean energy.

“They’re looking to flip the permits,” said one official with a wind developer.

But Hamner dismisses those accusations as if they’re insults from entitled lawmakers or bested competitors acting like bossy “New Jersey mafiosos.”

Salazar pushing for a fix

He describes his maneuvering as a good business decision, one that fits within existing rules. He is not a claim jumper, he says, because MMS has not issued the rule needed to receive leases — an assertion with which his competitors have no choice but to agree.

“You can’t say somebody else is claim jumping when you haven’t in fact made a claim,” Hamner said. “All they’re doing is sitting there on the shore saying, ‘Hey, we were here first. What’s this guy doing messin’ in our sandbox?'”

He is unapologetic about applying for interim permits under FERC, days after the commission underscored its jurisdiction over hydrokinetic (wave power) projects in October. Nor does he feel burdened by exploiting the turf battle in Washington. FERC, he says, is the rightful overseer of electricity projects.

“They could have done the same thing that I did,” Hamner said of other developers. “The ocean’s got a lot of opportunity. There’s room for everybody. What we don’t want to have is people standing on the shore who’ve got the attitude of New Jersey mafiosos saying that’s their playground.”

Hamner is eligible for a FERC permit because he’s emphasizing wave power. At each of his seven sites, he proposes raising 100 platforms, each with three legs. Every leg will carry a 330-kilowatt generator, providing about 10% of the 1,100 megawatts produced by each project. Hamner plans to find the bulk of his electricity through wind turbines, big, 10-megawatt units on each platform.

The territorial dispute, meanwhile, is rising to a new level of urgency in Washington. Salazar said he hopes to draft a long-delayed memorandum of understanding with FERC, perhaps as soon as today. That could prevent the agencies from “stumbling over each other,” he told reporters on a conference call yesterday.

“We will not let any of the jurisdictional turf battles in the past get in the way with moving forward with our energy agenda,” Salazar said.

The MMS rule regarding leases could follow soon if the inter-agency dispute is settled. That’s considered a key requirement for sparking a robust offshore industry.

“They just need to work it out,” said Laurie Jodziewicz, manager of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association. “We have some real projects that are being held up right now.”

Yet Olsen, the former official with Interior who worked on the rule, expressed doubt yesterday that Salazar would be able to quickly disarm the two sides. Congress might have to draft new legislation, he predicted, or perhaps President Obama’s new energy czar, Carol Browner, could muscle a jurisdictional remedy into place.

“It’s going to be the same thing,” Olsen said, recalling past challenges to fixing the problem. “Something’s gotta happen.”

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H. JOSEF HEBERT, The Associated Press, March 16, 2009

While the Obama administration has touted offshore renewable energy development, a turf fight between two federal agencies has stymied the government’s ability to issue rules needed to approve wind energy projects off America’s coasts.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday the infighting has got to stop.

“It will be resolved,” Salazar said in response to questions about the dispute. “We will not let any of the jurisdictional turf battles of the past get in the way of our moving forward with the renewable energy agenda.”

The dispute, which dates to late 2007, pits the Interior Department against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over which entity should approve projects that use coastal waves and currents to produce power.

Offshore wind development has been entangled in the dispute because Interior’s Mineral Management Service does not want to separate wind projects from the tidal wave, or hydrokinetic power, programs – which FERC in turn has refused to surrender, according to several officials who have followed the dispute.

Interior and FERC are said to be close to agreement on a “memorandum of understanding” that would delineate each organization’s involvement in the offshore renewable energy approval process.

Salazar has been vocal in his call for more aggressive development of renewable energy projects off the country’s coasts, especially off the northern and central Atlantic. He said the governors of New Jersey and Delaware have asked what is holding up the regulations and said projects off their coasts are ready to go.

Jon Wellinghoff, acting chairman of FERC, played down the interagency dispute and – like Salazar – said he was confident the problem will soon be worked out.

“It’s less of a dispute than people say it is,” insisted Wellinghoff in a brief interview, adding that he doubted it has stopped any wind projects.

“It has nothing to do with wind. It only has to do with our jurisdiction over hydrokinetic systems, whether they are on the Outer Continental Shelf or not,” said Wellinghoff. He said he saw no reason why the Mineral Management Service would insist on viewing the tidal wave and wind issues together.

Salazar over the past week met with Wellinghoff to try to work out a memorandum of understanding that could be issued as early as this week. Both men are expected to be asked about the disagreement at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Tuesday.

“If we don’t resolve the jurisdictional issues between FERC and the Department of Interior, we are not going to be able to move forward in the development of our offshore renewable energy resources,” said Salazar.

Mike Olsen, an attorney who represents Deep Water Wind, a company that wants to build a 96-turbine wind farm off the New Jersey coast, calls the dispute a classic government turf battle.

“It’s two agencies both feeling each has specific authority and jurisdiction. Neither one wants to yield its authority or jurisdiction to the other,” said Olsen, who as a deputy assistant Interior secretary in the Bush administration observed the dispute first hand.

Interior waged “a full court press” to get the rules on offshore renewable energy development finalize last year, Olsen said, but the effort was thwarted by the lack of an agreement with FERC.

“From our perspective the rule was ready to go in November,” said Olsen. But despite involvement of the Bush White House, no memorandum of understanding on the jurisdiction issue could be hammered out between Interior and FERC.

With a new administration on the horizon “the battle was put on hold,” he said.

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MendoCoastCurrent, March 11, 2009

17transition2-6001Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that he has just signed his first order establishing renewable energy generation as the top priority of the Department of the Interior. Following President Obama’s lead in steering the United States into this new energy path, he said this agenda would create jobs and grow investment and innovation at home. Also noted was that the DOI will focus mostly in western states for generation of electricity through renewable energy (solar, wind, wave, geothermal, biomass).

Secretary Salazar illustrated this opportunity with the Bureau of Land Management backlog over 200 solar energy projects and over 20 wind projects in western states alone. There have yet been any permits or jobs created for these renewable energy projects to be fast-tracked in consideration, evaluated in terms of environmental impact and anticipating the acceptable projects will move forward swiftly.

Starting today, renewable energy projects in solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal and biomass will benefit in priority treatment to generate electricity and renewable energy. And Secretary Salazar stated that a newly-formed energy and climate change task force is already working hard, nights and weekend to develop these plans (since January 20th) for presentation to a Dept. of Energy committee soon. 

In tandem, Secretary Salazar indicated that through cross-departmental effort (BLM, EPA, Dept. of Energy, MMS, FERC and others), his goal is to rapidly and responsibly move forward with Obama’s renewable energy agenda to develop and upgrade the United States electric transmission grid.  

When asked about Cape Wind off Cape Cod, Mr. Salazar indicate that “after we hold our hearings around the country [for MMS rulemaking] the jurisdictional issues between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Minerals Management Service shall be accomplished within this year.” Many projects are being inhibited and we are actively clearing the path to move forward.

The roadshow planned by Secretary Salazar shall help identify renewable energy zones (solar energy in western states minus ecological sensitivity (reduction). He explained that today, through solar energy in the western states alone, we may produce 88% of all of the energy needs and adding wind takes it over 100%. This also fuels the need for a national transmission system as a high priority.

Salazar also called for the need to finalize and renew offshore renewable energy rules that protect the United States landscapes, wildlife and environment as we serve as steward of our lands.

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Washington Post Editorial, February 12, 2009

Interior Secretary Salazar Keeps his Options Open on Offshore Drilling 

17transition2-6001Here’s the ultimate midnight regulation: On the very last day of the Bush administration, the Interior Department proposed a new five-year plan for oil and gas leasing on the outer continental shelf. All hearings and other meetings on the scope of the plan, which would have opened as much as 300 million acres of seafloor to drilling, were to be completed by March 23, 2009. On Tuesday, Ken Salazar, President Obama’s interior secretary, pushed back the clock 180 days, imposing order on a messy process.

Mr. Bush’s midnight maneuver would have auctioned oil and gas leases without regard to how they fit into a larger strategy for energy independence. More can be done on the shelf than punching for pools of oil to satisfy the inane “drill, baby, drill” mantra that masqueraded as Republican energy policy last summer.

Mr. Salazar’s 180-day extension of the comment period is the first of four actions that he says will give him “sound information” on which to base a new offshore plan for the five years starting in 2012. He has directed the Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to round up all the information they have about offshore resources within 45 days. This will help the department determine where seismic tests should be conducted. Some of the data on the Atlantic are more than 30 years old.

The secretary will then conduct four regional meetings within 30 days of receiving that report to hear testimony on how best to proceed. Mr. Salazar has committed to issuing a final rule on offshore renewable energy resources “in the next few months.” Developing plans to harness wind, wave and tidal energy offshore would make for a more balanced approach to energy independence. It would also have the advantage of complying with the law. Mr. Salazar helped to write a 2005 statute mandating that Interior issue regulations within nine months to guide the development of those offshore renewable energy sources [the Energy Policy Act of 2005], a requirement that the Bush administration ignored.

Mr. Salazar’s announcement was also notable for what it didn’t do. Much to the chagrin of some environmental advocates, it didn’t take offshore drilling off the table. Nor did it cut oil and gas interests out of the discussion.

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DANIEL B. WOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, February 11, 2009

Less than a month into his administration, President Obama is making good on campaign promises to move toward a comprehensive approach to US energy and to broaden environmental protections. The administration has moved over the past few weeks to undo many of Bush’s last-minute drilling and environmental decisions, including putting the brakes Tuesday on a plan to open up vast new areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling.

In swift succession, the Obama administration has:

  • Ordered the Environmental Protection Authority to reconsider its decision to deny California permission to set standards controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles – if permitted, this would allow 13 more states to follow suit.
  • Abandoned a Bush administration legal appeal in a major air pollution case – signaling it will allow tougher rules to cut mercury emissions from power plants.
  • Canceled 77 Bush-era oil and gas leases over 100,000 acres of public land near national parks in Utah.
  • Announced an intent to develop an offshore energy plan that includes renewable resources, giving states and the federal government more time to study and assess the future of offshore energy planning.

“There’s clearly a new kid in town. The Obama administration is moving quicker on the environment than anything else,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. “They are concerned that untoward things are going to happen before they can get new policies in place, so they are trying to reverse old ones.”

In the most recent move to stall Bush policy, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that the time period for public comment on a draft five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing would be extended for another 180 days. He also ordered the US Geological Survey and the Minerals Management Service to develop an extensive profile of the nation’s resources offshore.

The plan, which was proposed by the Bush administration on its last day in office and published the day after President Obama took office, originally allowed 45 days for scoping and comment.

Describing the plan as “a headlong rush of the worst kind,” Mr. Salazar said that “Bush’s “midnight action” accelerated by two years the regular process for creating a new plan for the outer continental shelf.

“It opened up the possibility for oil and gas leasing along the entire Eastern Seaboard, portions of offshore California, and the far eastern Gulf of Mexico, with almost no consideration of state, industry, and community input and … with very limited information about the nature of offshore resources,” he said.

The new administration will look at offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan, he said. The changes are to “fulfill President Obama’s commitment to a government that is open and inclusive and makes decisions based on sound science and the public interest.”

“I intend to do what the Bush administration refused to do; build a framework for offshore renewable-energy development so that we incorporate the great potential for wind, wave, and ocean current energy into our offshore energy strategy.”

In a similar move last week, the Interior secretary announced that the Bureau of Land Management would withdraw drilling leases that were offered on 77 parcels of US public land near national parks in Utah. The leases, on land totaling 103, 225 acres, are under litigation in district court.

Development of oil and gas supplies was needed to help reduce dependence on foreign oil, but it must be done in a “thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and culture resources,” said Salazar, adding that the BLM would return $6 million in bids from an auction last December.

Also last week, the Justice Department said it is withdrawing a US Supreme Court appeal filed by the Bush administration against a court ruling governing mercury emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

The Obama administration has also told the EPA to reconsider denying California the power to regulate vehicular pollution. The Bush administration’s EPA in 2007 had denied California the waiver needed to authorize its special status under the Clean Air Act. That law gives California the authority to regulate vehicular pollution because the state began doing so before the federal government did.

Leading environmental groups, which were often at odds with Bush, are breathing a palpable sigh of relief. “We are encouraged by Obama’s announcement that he is going to restore order to a broken system and that is what this is,” says Kristina Johnson, deputy press secretary for the Sierra Club.

“This five-year offshore drilling program that Bush tried to push through wasn’t based on sound science, and there was no public input,” she said. “It’s part of a new way of doing business. [The Obama administration understands] that the answer to America’s energy problems isn’t more drilling and that we need to be investing in clean energy.”

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STEPHEN POWER, The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2009
images1Interior Secretary Ken Salazar indicated Tuesday that the Obama Administration could be open to expanded offshore drilling and is considering doing away with a controversial program that allows oil companies to pay in kind for oil and natural gas taken from public lands.

Salazar inherited a Bush Administration plan that would open tracts off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts where drilling had previously been prohibited. Environmental groups want the Obama administration to re-impose a ban on expanded offshore drilling that President George W. Bush lifted last year.

Asked in an interview with The Wall Street Journal whether President Barack Obama might try to reinstate the ban, Salazar paused 18 seconds before saying: “I don’t know.”

“We have significant drilling already in many places of the Gulf coast. We have drilling in many places off the Alaska shorelines. There are other places that hold potential for exploration. We’ll develop our guidelines as to how we’re going to look at it. But we’re still at the beginning of an information-gathering process,” he said.

Asked about the Bush administration’s proposal to open certain areas of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to drilling and whether he saw any opportunities for expanded development of the nation’s offshore areas, Salazar said: “When you look at the whole [outer continental shelf], it’s a huge potential. And it has to be done carefully. We don’t want to ruin the beaches of Florida and the coastlines of other places that are sensitive.”

“On the other hand, there are places where it may be appropriate for us to have reconnaissance and exploration and even development. Those are questions that we are exploring and hopefully over the months ahead we’ll have answers to these questions,” he said.

Salazar left the door open to curtailing the “royalty-in-kind” program, under which the government receives oil or natural gas instead of cash for payments of royalties from companies that lease federal property for oil and gas development, and then sells the product into the marketplace and returns the proceeds to the Treasury. “We’re going to put everything on the table — I think everything needs to be looked at,” Salazar said.

Meanwhile, Salazar said new legislation may be needed to overhaul the scandal-plagued Minerals Management Service, a bureau of Interior that manages the nation’s offshore oil and natural gas reserves.

Salazar said his top priority is to restore confidence in the agency, and in particular the MMS, which was rocked last fall by a report from the department’s inspector general that accused some MMS employees of accepting gifts from and having sex with oil and gas industry representatives whose activities they were supposed to regulate.

Although the Bush administration late last year announced disciplinary action ranging from warnings to termination of more than a half-dozen workers implicated in the report, Salazar said he is mulling “whether additional actions are required.”

Many environmental groups are looking to Salazar to reverse certain policy changes made in the final months of the Bush administration, including new regulations on commercial oil-shale development that the groups say lock in inappropriately low royalty rates for energy firms. Salazar said he and his aides intend to review “all those issues” and that “I expect that there will be changes.”

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