Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New OCS program’s delay isn’t surprising

There’s been some sound and fury recently, mostly from congressional Republicans and domestic resource development advocates, about US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s supposedly saying the new five-year Outer Continental Shelf program won’t take effect until 2012. Can anyone honestly say they’re surprised?

Salazar has consistently signaled, since he arrived at the Department of the Interior, that he and his agency directors would move more slowly and deliberately on OCS and other energy development programs than their Bush administration predecessors. His decision early on to broaden the next five-year OCS program and include renewable energy projects introduced an element which further complicated the planning process.

When the secretary took questions from reporters at DOI’s fiscal 2011 budget briefing on Feb. 1, I asked him about the OCS programs. He basically responded that he and his officials were moving quickly, but carefully, on the next five-year schedule, but that they also had to correct flaws in the current one which a federal court had thrown out.

One of Salazar’s first steps, on learning of the court’s decision, by the way, was to seek clarification that the US Minerals Management Service could proceed with Gulf of Mexico lease sales under the current program. When anyone questions the Obama administration’s commitment to domestic oil and gas resource development, Salazar always cites those GOM sales as part of what he considers an active and robust leasing program.

After The Hill’s energy and environment Blog posted a story on Mar. 3 (at http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/677-e2-wire/84781-salazar-eyes-sequential-offshore-drilling-plans) quoting Salazar saying that the next five-year program would cover the 2012-17 instead of 2010-15 period, however, critics erupted. “Secretary Salazar has finally confirmed what had long been feared – that the Obama administration has no intention of opening up new areas for offshore drilling during his four years in office,” House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Minority Member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said on Mar. 8.

When I contacted Salazar’s office for a statement, a spokeswoman responded: “Secretary Salazar will have a new five-year plan before the current plan expires.” That would be on June 30, 2012. If he expects to meet that deadline, he’ll need to start beginning to develop a programmatic environmental impact statement in the next few weeks if he expects to continue holding lease sales in the central and western GOM, let alone considering any in other parts of the OCS which were off-limits until Sept. 30, 2008.


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