From the Cheap Seats: Salazar’s New Clothes

December 20, 2012

The Interior Department statement reads like a 1970s Soviet Union agriculture report that insisted grain production was up, despite intelligence reports documenting massive crop failures

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar continues to shred any vestiges of credibility with his latest feel-good report on oil-and-gas lease sales.

The Dec. 17 release credits “President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy” with generating $233 million from onshore oil and gas lease sales conducted by the Bureau of Land Management in 2012.

“The president is committed to an all-of-the-above approach to safely and responsibly developing our convention and renewable energy resources on public lands,” says Salazar in the statement. “Domestic oil and gas production continues to increase every year of this administration while imported foreign oil continues to decrease, which is good for the economy, good for jobs, and good for America.”

You heard that right: It turns out that a grateful nation has Barack Obama to thank for increased fossil-fuel production.

Never mind the administration’s well-documented war on coal, or the billions spent trying to prop up the renewable-energy industry at the expense of oil and natural gas, or the president’s efforts to impose a cap-and-trade program on carbon emissions.

Indeed, the Interior Department statement reads like one of those 1970s-era Soviet Union agriculture reports that routinely insisted grain production was up, despite intelligence reports documenting massive crop failures.

For starters, Salazar fails to mention that the $233 million in 2012 actually represents a decline in land-use revenue. In 2011, oil-and-gas leases on BLM land generated $256 million, according to an Interior Department release.

As Salazar is undoubtedly aware, that decrease comes as oil and natural gas production is skyrocketing on privately held land, notably the Bakken formation in North Dakota, thanks to the revolution in drilling brought about by hydraulic-fracturing technology.

Production on federal land can’t keep up, in part because lease sales are inevitably accompanied by legal and administrative challenges by environmental groups. Salazar says such protests are down, asserting that only 18 percent of the parcels offered for sale in fiscal year 2012 faced challenges, thanks to the department’s efforts to address environmental concerns prior to the lease sales.

When looking only at parcels offered for sale in the West, where energy production is concentrated, the percentage is considerably higher. The data for 2012 have yet to be released, but in 2011, 56 percent of sales in Western states were contested.

Salazar also neglects to point out that the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release this month a draft report on fracking and water pollution, which environmentalists hope will be the first step toward a federal crackdown on the technology.

That Salazar feels compelled to put his name on this sort of state propaganda is particularly disheartening because he obviously knows better. He grew up in a ranching family. He understands how oppressive federal regulation can cripple rural communities that depend on the energy industry. Or at least he used to.

When Salazar was first named Interior Secretary at the start of Obama’s first term, environmental groups were initially disappointed, fearing the former Democratic senator would act as a defender of rural economic interests. Since then, however, Salazar has proven all too willing to put a happy face on the president’s anti-growth agenda. For anyone who once admired Salazar’s political courage, it’s a shame to see this once-independent voice fall in line behind the Obama agenda.

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