Revisiting Obama’s ‘Tough Decisions’ on Offshore Drilling

Remember the State of the Union, way back in January? President Obama shared a vision of our nation’s energy future:

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. …

Two months later, if you replace “making tough decisions” with “continuing to do nothing” in that sentence, you’ve got a clear picture of what’s happening.

Not only did the President make a disingenuous suggestion of a push to open new offshore areas (read: Virginia and the Eastern Gulf, off Florida) during the SOTU, over a year of foot-dragging by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar may jeopardize the regular annual leasing program in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico – that 15% of the Outer Continental Shelf that is currently open for leasing.

Last Thursday, 88 Republican House members sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, calling for an end to the “Obama Moratorium” on offshore drilling.

Washington, D.C.– Today, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Doc Hastings (WA-04), House Republican Leader John Boehner, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor and 85 other Republicans sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar demanding that the Administration begin to implement the 2010-2015 five-year lease plan for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). This plan would open, for the first time in a generation, areas that were made available when Congress lifted the moratorium in 2008. After repeatedly delaying the original 2010-2015 OCS lease plan, Secretary Salazar recently said that the Administration would wait until 2012 to implement a new plan. The establishment of this new two-year “Obama Moratorium” is unacceptable to Republicans in Congress and defies the will of the American people.

Nick Snow, in an Oil and Gas Journal article points out that the Bush Administration attempted to accelerate the leasing program in response to the high energy prices of 2008.

As for preparing the next 5-year OCS program, which increasingly looks as if will cover its original 2012-17 time frame instead of the 2010-15 period which Salazar’s predecessor, Dirk A. Kempthorne, proposed when he “jump-started” its development in late July 2008, Birnbaum said: “We submitted a schedule which indicated we would begin scoping a programmatic [environmental impact statement] in April. That’s still on track.”

… House GOP members sent a letter to Salazar on Mar. 25 asking him to immediately implement the 2010-15 OCS schedule which was in its final comment period when Salazar took office and began a series of delays to broaden and redesign it.

Separately, in the O&GJ’s Washington Pulse blog, Snow adds:

After The Hill’s energy and environment Blog posted a story on Mar. 3 … 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.

[Emphasis added.]

Cross-posted at VladEnBlog.