Monday, September 21, 2009

Slowing down Kempthorne’s ‘jump start’

Sept. 21 was more than the Autumnal Equinox in Washington. It also marked the end of the six-month period US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar established for comments on a new five-year Outer Continental Shelf leasing plan after suspending one his predecessor, Dirk A. Kempthorne, “jump-started” in August 2008.

Salazar said he was seeking, among other things, additional public comments. Special interest groups delivered plenty to the Interior Department.

American Solutions for Winning the Future dropped off 90,358 comments in support of offshore drilling. “The American people have spoken loud and clear that America’s abundant energy resources have been off limits for too long,” said Vince Haley, the group’s vice president for policy. “Every day of inaction by Secretary Salazar is another day the now-expired ban on drilling stays in effect despite the American people’s overwhelming support for offshore drilling.”

“The only real question: Will the Obama administration listen to the will of the American people and allow us to make use of the affordable, abundant, and reliable domestic energy supplies we rightfully own? Was the decision to lift the decades old ban on offshore exploration truly a response to the will of the vast majority of the American people? Or was it merely an election year gesture to be replaced indefinitely by a de facto ban?” said Institute for Energy Research President Thomas J. Pyle, who planned to submit 11,816 comments which IER received.

Environmental organizations focused their concerns on offshore Alaska areas. Twelve collected 300,000 comments urging Salazar to stop oil and gas activity in the US Arctic now and permanently protect Bristol Bay. They also sent a letter to the Obama administration signed by more than 400 US and foreign scientists stating that plans for the Alaskan offshore created during the Bush administration did not fully consider environmental consequences or impacts on indigenous residents.

“The American public has unequivocally said that Bush’s aggressive plans for oil and gas development have no place in America’s Arctic and Bristol Bay,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “Secretary Salazar pledged to make wise decisions based on sound information. We urge him to continue the process he has begun, and come up with a rigorous plan that ensures the survival of these two national treasures.”

American Petroleum Institute President Jack N. Gerard noted that the nation will mark the one-year anniversary of the expiration of congressional offshore lease moratoriums off the US Atlantic and Pacific coasts in 10 more days.

“Despite the public’s clear desire for more domestic energy development and the industry’s years of experience operating offshore in an environmentally sensitive way, this administration repeatedly has slow-pedaled this plan which would benefit all Americans, especially in these tough economic times,” he said. “New oil and gas development could create thousands of jobs, add over a trillion dollars to government coffers, strengthen America’s energy security and encourage our economic recovery. It’s time to end the delays.”

Salazar has indicated that he plans to continue proceeding deliberately, not only re-evaluating the five-year OCS plan Kempthorne wanted to finish two years early, but also broadening it to consider renewable and alternative technologies. Congressional Republicans have protested that waiting until July 2012 to put it into effect represents a delay. The secretary apparently thinks he’s simply returning it to its original schedule, with a chance to make it better in the process.

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