White House Signals Move Away from Oil and Gas Dependence in New Energy Plan
• Direction Validates Local Opposition to Recent Bid for New Drilling Off Coast
BY ANNE SOBLE
BY ANNE SOBLE
Less than two weeks after the California State Lands Commission vetoed the first new oil drilling proposal off the state’s coast in 40 years, the White House is taking steps toward developing a national energy policy along lines that differ sharply from the views of the previous Administration.
On Tuesday in Washington, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced an offshore energy plan with a strong emphasis on renewable resources.
The strategy first calls for “extending the public comment period on a proposed 5-year plan for oil and gas development on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf by 180 days, assembling a detailed report from Interior Department agencies on conventional and renewable offshore energy resources, holding four regional conferences on the findings, and expediting renewable energy rulemaking for the [OCS].”
“To establish an orderly process that allows us to make wise decisions based on sound information, we need to set aside the Bush Administration’s midnight timetable for its OCS drilling plan and create our own timeline,” Salazar said.
On its last business day in office, the Bush Administration proposed a new five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing. Salazar said the deadline for public comment on that plan—March 23—does not provide enough time for public review or wise decision-making on behalf of the nation’s taxpayers.
“The additional time we are providing will give states, stakeholders, and affected communities the opportunity to provide input on the future of our offshore areas,” he said. “The additional time will allow us to restore an orderly process to our offshore energy planning.”
Salazar said this evaluation of the proposed plan also requires that more information be obtained about offshore resources.
Salazar directed the United States Geological Survey, the Minerals Management Service, and other departmental scientists to report on offshore resources—conventional and renewable—along with information about potential impacts in 45 days.
Based on those reports, the Department of Interior will address any information gaps related to the more than 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf, an area about three-fourths the size of the United States.
“To gather the best ideas for how we accomplish the task of gathering the offshore information we need, I will convene four regional meetings in the 30 days after MMS and USGS publish their report,” Salazar said. One of these will be on the West Coast, where all interested parties will be able to offer recommendations “on how to move ahead with a comprehensive offshore energy plan.”
Salazar added that he will create a framework for offshore renewable energy development, so that DOI can incorporate wind, wave, and ocean current energy into its offshore energy strategy. “The Bush Administration was so intent on opening new areas for oil and gas offshore that it torpedoed offshore renewable energy efforts,” he said.
When in the U.S. Senate, Salazar helped craft and pass the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that required Interior to move quickly and issue, within nine months, rules and regulations to guide the development of offshore energy resources, such as wind, wave, and tidal power. The Bush Administration left office without putting any regulations in place “because it was not their priority,” the Secretary said, “notwithstanding the requirement of the law.”
“I intend to issue a final rulemaking for offshore renewables in the coming months, so that potential developers know the rules of the road,” Salazar said. “This rulemaking will allow us to move from the ‘oil and gas only’ approach of the previous Administration to the comprehensive energy plan that we need.”
“We need a new, comprehensive energy plan that takes us to the new energy frontier and secures our energy independence,” Salazar said. “We must embrace President Obama’s vision of energy independence for the sake of our national security, our economic security, and our environmental security.”
By adding the 180-day extension to the original 60-day public comment period, interested parties will have been provided eight months to offer input on the proposed plan. The current comment period opened on Jan. 21.