Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Everyone, take a deep breath and think

Relations between US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and parts of the oil and gas industry have achieved the dynamic of an elementary school playground fight during recess. It’s time for everyone to cool off and remember what’s at stake.

I wonder, for example, if the secretary regrets saying during his Jan. 6 teleconference that producers were “kings of the world” who treated public lands as “the central candy store” where they could take what they wanted. Did he actually think this, or was he simply annoyed that several reporters who phoned in kept asking if he was going to run to succeed Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter who was going to announce a few hours later that he would not run for re-election?

Whether he meant them or not, the remarks brought into the open animosity that has been growing between DOI and the industry. E-mails I’ve received from OGJ readers suggest that many producers believe political appointees at the agency intend to obstruct, instead of encourage, more domestic oil and gas development.

But there also were serious abuses which occurred within at least one DOI agency before Salazar arrived. Two different US Minerals Management Service directors told me, “I don’t know; none of that happened on my watch” when I asked about various problems. That’s unacceptable. It also suggests that the current secretary’s right in wanting to make some major changes.

Matters came to their latest head on Jan. 26 when American Petroleum Institute President Jack N. Gerard told reporters during a somewhat chaotic teleconference that total federal oil and gas leasing during Salazar’s first year as Interior secretary sunk to its lowest level on record.

Salazar’s spokeswoman, Kendra Barkoff, responded a few hours later that production from federal oil and gas leases actually grew from 2008 to 2009. “Mr. Gerard needs to check his facts before making statements that are so far off the mark,” she suggested.

API responded to the response on Jan. 27. It said in a statement that DOI’s “attack on the veracity of Mr. Gerard’s comments is pure dissimulation. It fails to address Mr. Gerard’s point that leased acreage plunged in 2009 and concedes that lease revenues collapsed by more than 90%” during his first year at the Interior Department’s helm.

Production versus leasing. Apples and oranges. What’s annoying is that none of the participants can be sent into a corner for a time-out. They’re supposedly grown-ups.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sen. Boxer circles the wagons

Prospects for passage were questionable. US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) nevertheless sent a letter on Jan. 11 signed by all 12 of the committee’s Democrats urging other senators to vote against Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alas.) bill concerning the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas endangerment finding.

“Debating policy choices regarding the appropriate response to unchecked climate change is fair, and the Senate will continue to evaluate the best tools for addressing greenhouse gas emissions, but repealing an endangerment finding based upon years of work by America's scientists and public health experts is not appropriate,” the letter said.

Murkowski announced on Dec. 14 that she intended to file a disapproval resolution to stop EPA from regulating GHGs under the Clean Air Act. While there were reports that she might seek a Senate floor vote on Jan. 20, it still wasn’t clear the day before what the resolution would be or whether she would actually press for a vote.

“We don’t know exactly what she will offer. She has a wide range of options. She might seek to remove the trigger completely or give Congress more time to deal with it,” Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND), who serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee with her, said during a Jan. 19 press teleconference.

“My preference is that Congress, not EPA, address these issues,” he continued. “I recognize that EPA is under a directive as a result of a court decision. This creates pressure on Congress, which is best equipped to address it.”

Boxer might want to consider redirecting her concern. The vote that potentially matters most to climate change legislative prospects is not one which might (or might not) come later in the Senate, but the one in which Massachusetts voters elected Republican Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley to succeed the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sen. Dorgan’s surprising announcement

US Senate Democrats were prepared for Christopher J. Dodd’s (Conn.) announcement that he would not run for re-election this fall. Byron L. Dorgan’s (ND) probably took them by surprise.

“Although I still have a passion for public service and enjoy my work in the Senate, I have other interests and I have other things I would like to pursue outside of public life. I have written two books and have an invitation from a publisher to write two more books. I would like to do some teaching and would also like to work on energy policy in the private sector,” Dorgan said on Jan. 5. “So, over this holiday season, I have come to the conclusion, with the support of my family, that I will not be seeking another term in the US Senate in 2010. It is a hard decision to make after 30 years in the Congress, but I believe it is the right time for me to pursue these other interests.”

Dorgan emphasized in his statement that his decision does not reflect any dissatisfaction with being in the Senate. “Yes, I wish there was less rancor and more bipartisanship these days. But still, it is a great privilege to serve and I have the utmost respect for all of the men and women with whom I serve,” he said.

His action also was not related to the prospect of a difficult 2010 re-election campaign, possibly against John Hoeven, North Dakota’s popular Republican governor, who was reportedly on the fence about possibly challenging the three-term senator. “Frankly, I think if I had decided to run for another term in the Senate I would be re-elected,” Dorgan said. “But I feel that after serving 30 years, I want to make time for some other priorities. And making a commitment to serve in the Senate for the next seven years does not seem like the right decision for me.”

His announcement is expected to have significant consequences. Not only will it probably make Hoeven the Republican candidate for the Senate seat, but it also may make it harder for Democrats to keep their fragile 60-seat majority. Earl Pomeroy, North Dakota’s single US House member, is their best immediate prospect. His seat there would be up for grabs if he tries to move over to the Senate.

Dorgan, who is second in seniority among Democrats on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee only to chairman Jeff Bingaman (NM), still has another year in office. “I will continue to work hard for the best interests of our state and country during this coming year. We need to get the economic engine restarted and put people back to work. We need to reform our financial system to make sure that which happened to cause this deep recession will not happen again. And we need to get our fiscal and budget policies under control. The federal budget deficits are not sustainable,” he maintained.

“But even as we face all of these difficult issues, I am convinced that our country will rise to the challenge,” Dorgan continued. “We are a great nation. And I have a deep sense of optimism about the future of our country.”