Ken Salazar, the “New Sheriff” at Interior: Oil and gas interests “Do not own the nations public lands”

This Wonk Room repost is by guest blogger is Tom Kenworthy, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

When president-elect Barack Obama nominated Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar to head the Department of Interior at the end of 2008, some voices in the conservation community wondered whether the moderate Democrat with ties to ranching and other traditional western industries was the best choice to chart a new direction in managing one-fifth of the nation’s land.

But immediately after taking office, Salazar quickly moved to dispel many of those worries with a series of directives that forcefully demonstrated that the Bush era had ended, particularly on policies related to energy development on federal lands:

“” He suspended 77 controversial oil and gas leases in Utah, some of them near national parks and national monuments.

– Understanding that renewable energy projects create more jobs than fossil fuels development, he directed his agencies to make the development of renewable energy a priority.

– He withdrew the Bush administration’s industry-friendly research and development leases for oil shale development in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

– He launched a department-wide effort to ensure that federal land management decisions respond effectively to climate change.

And, saying “There’s a new sheriff in town,” he began to clean up the scandal-plagued Minerals Management Service, the Interior agency that oversees royalty collections from oil and gas companies operating on federal land and offshore.

A year later, Salazar is still riding herd on an industry that had grown accustomed to getting nearly everything it wanted from Washington. Early last month Salazar announced that his department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would conduct more thorough environmental reviews of potential oil and gas leases – including site specific inspections “” and that a new departmental team would oversee energy reforms, so Interior would no longer be a “candy store” for the fossil fuels industry:

The previous administration’s ‘anywhere, anyhow’ policy on oil and gas development ran afoul of communities, carved up the landscape and fueled costly conflicts that created uncertainty for investors and industry. We need a fresh look – from inside the federal government and from outside – at how we can better manage Americans’ energy resources.

The Bush administration did industry’s bidding for eight years: from fiscal 2001 to fiscal 2009, more than 41,700 drilling permits were approved on federal lands, almost two-and-a-half times as many as during the previous eight years. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that the “dramatic increase” in oil and gas development on federal lands had undercut the BLM’s ability to meet its environmental obligations. The pace of development was such that rural Sublette County, Wyoming – which doesn’t even have a traffic light – recorded ozone levels in February 2008 that were nearly 50 percent higher than federal health standards. But it wasn’t just the numbers, it was also the cherished places the Bush administration wanted to drill: Colorado’s Roan Plateau, New Mexico’s Otero Mesa, Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, the Wyoming Range, and the list goes on.

Last November, American Petroleum Institute (API) president Jack Gerard accused the administration of taking “a series of actions”¦to delay or thwart oil and natural gas exploration.” The Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS) that same month accused Interior of “irregularities” in cutting lease sales and failing to issue $100 million in leases already sold, even though federal records show that more than 45,000,000 federal acres were under lease as recently as last fall, and that more than 32 million of those acres had yet to be into production.

Salazar, to his credit, has not backed away under industry criticisms, calling them “poison and deceptive.” Oil and gas interests, he said, “do not own the nation’s public lands; taxpayers do.”

7 Responses to Ken Salazar, the “New Sheriff” at Interior: Oil and gas interests “Do not own the nations public lands”

  1. Larz Larson says:

    WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne pledged Thursday to rid his department of employees who do favors for oil company bigs in return for sex and drugs.

    “We will examine the full spectrum of disciplinary actions, including termination,” Kempthorne told the House Natural Resources Committee.

    Kempthorne said eight employees at Interior’s Mineral Management Service could be fired, and he was banning all employees in that division from taking gifts and gratuities.

    Read more:

    Pot calling kettle black. The gubment workers were corrupt and we all hear it is the oil companies. Is there a gubment program that has no corruption?

  2. Bill W says:

    Larz (#1), it takes two parties to make a bribe work: the bribee and the briber. The oil companies obviously fill the role of “briber” in your tale from 2008, so they’re just as much at fault, if not more so, than the government employees who accepted the bribes. I say “if not more so” on the assumption that the oil companies initiated the exchange, which seems likely.

  3. Robert says:

    Our ever present energy and climate crisis welcomes the courageous leadership that our ‘new sheriff’, Ken Salazar, has demonstrated. America’s savvy leaders must move ever so quickly to return the land to serve as a sustainable energy resource without destroying its water and natural grassland resources. The same can be said for the land scares of Wyoming cause by vast coal field canyons or the Appalachian mountaintop removal scourge that is destroying the lands prime purpose which is to be a platform for the natural life forms compatible with the lands sustainable wind and solar energy resources. A Blue/Green World awaits those who can run bravely into the future! Jobs will be there for the people who get there first. Those who are second will find their jobs in China. This is a crisis and a golden opportunity if people will let good governance lead! If America misses this shot and buys the fossil fools fable such as “drill baby drill” we will become just another tar-sand/oil-shale polluted black-water country, clinging to the past and unable to provide smartly for its future. This is not a choice to ponder but a time to ACT! Teddy Roosevelt would approve of the great job Ken is doing! He needs our support!
    Currently Secretary Salazar is soliciting public comments through February 12 concerning the Cape Wind energy project. Click on he link provided and let the Secretary know of your approval of the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts. Your voice at this moment is critically important and will make a difference in ensuring a better, blue/green future.

  4. Larz Larson says:

    In 2007, Salazar was one of only a handful of Democrats to vote against a bill that would require the United States Army Corps of Engineers to consider global warming when planning water projects.[8]

    On May 9, 2009, Salazar announced the upholding of a Bush-era policy that prevents the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions via the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a policy he pledged to reevaluate when he took office in January. The policy states that, despite the apparent negative impact global warming has on polar bears, an endangered species, greenhouse gasses cannot be regulated with the ESA. Salazar stated in a conference call announcing the decision that “The single greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of Arctic Sea ice due to climate change,” but the Endangered Species Act “is not the appropriate tool for us to deal with what is a global issue.”

  5. Richard Brenne says:

    When he was a U.S. Senator from Colorado Ken Salazar brought then-U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman to an energy summit in Denver. Bodman said that to replace conventional oil we should use coal to liquids, tar sands and oil shale.

    I asked him “Mr. Secretary, what will that do to CO2 emissions and our children’s and grandchildren’s climate?”

    He appeared too embarrassed to answer, and so Senator Salazar jumped up to the microphone and said, “We’ll sequester.”

    “How do you sequester everything from a mining operation to the tailpipe?”

    There was no answer because there is none to that. Bodman and Salazar were speaking to a lot of oil shalers in the audience and didn’t know I’d be going all Helen Thomas on them. I hope Salazar’s views have matured since then.

  6. mark says:

    Re: gas leases in Utah, I would like to see Mr. Salazar help Tim Dechristopher, who took action on his own, and now faces jail as a result.

    “SALT LAKE CITY — An environmental activist tainted an auction of oil and gas drilling leases Friday by bidding up parcels of land by hundreds of thousands of dollars without any intention of paying for them, a federal official said.

    The process was thrown into chaos and the bidding halted for a time before the auction was closed, with 116 parcels totaling 148,598 acres having sold for $7.2 million plus fees.

    “He’s tainted the entire auction,” said Kent Hoffman, deputy state director for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Utah.

    Hoffman said buyers will have 10 days to reconsider and withdraw their bids if they think they paid too much.

    Tim DeChristopher, a 27-year-old University of Utah economics student, said his plan was to disrupt the auction and he feels he accomplished his goal.”

    Dechristopher is a hero in my eyes, the charges should be stayed, in light of the cancellations.

  7. Ron Broberg says:

    It is my belief that it is time to increase petroleum drilling in the US.
    This includes OCS and Alaska.
    We need it as bridge to a new transportation infrastructure.

    Any news about the “Solar Fast Track”?
    It’s been over six months now.

    Go nuclear!
    Go wind!
    Go bio!

    It should *all* be on the table folks.
    Energy and Tech drives the economy.
    Putting all your eggs in a Renewable portfolio is folly.