Shadow Dancing in Interior

Our guest blogger is Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Kempthorne and SalazarIn his first days, Interior Secretary Salazar, the self-proclaimed “new sheriff in town” (note the cowboy hat), has made some welcome first steps. But these will be only feckless feints unless followed by meaningful action:

— In his first trip, he went back to Denver to read the riot act to Minerals Management Service staff where last fall’s infamous sex and cocaine partying with oil lobbyists was exposed. Salazar issued a new code of ethics that consisted of the previous rules, based on the curious notion that the revelers did not know what the rules were. Significantly, he was silent on sweetheart royalty deals that are costing taxpayers billions;

— He suspended 77 Bureau of Land Management oil leases near national parks in Utah. The Washington Post called this a “clear signal,” but on examination it is a bit more ambiguous. These leases were already enjoined by a court action brought by conservation groups and the Secretary withdrew them for further review, so they may be re-offered. Moreover, Salazar has not commented on the underlying BLM policies that have turned much of the Rocky Mountain West into a pin cushion; and

— Most recently, he delayed Bush offshore drilling plans for six months so that a “comprehensive” plan could be developed. His action takes none of the Outer Continental Shelf off the table and the final policy may call for just as many oil rigs off America’s coasts but sprouting wind turbines above the derricks.

When directly confronted with the first case of political manipulation of science – involving needed Colorado River flows through the Grand Canyon (charges leveled by the park superintendent no less) – Sheriff Salazar ducked. Meanwhile, the Park Service started a witch hunt for how PEER obtained the documents.

One big cause for unease is that Salazar keeps talking about “energy independence” as his top goal, similar to the Dick Cheney philosophy of maximizing energy production on public lands regardless of the toll. It is still not clear how much Salazar’s actions will ultimately differ from Cheney’s. With the top ranks at Interior remaining unfilled, who those slots go to may tell a lot.

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