Salazar Rejects Bush Drilling Plan

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"Salazar said any offshore energy plan must include a push for more renewable energy, principally wind power."

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has rejected a Bush administration plan to open vast waters off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts to oil and gas drilling, promising "a new way forward" in offshore energy development including new wind projects.

Salazar, at a news conference Tuesday, criticized "the midnight timetable" for new oil and gas development on the country's Outer Continental Shelf proposed by the Bush administration four days before President Barack Obama took office Jan. 20.

The secretary said the previous administration's plan did not take into consideration the views of states and coastal communities, nor a need to better understand what energy resources are at stake, especially off the Atlantic coast where oil and gas estimates are more than three decades old.

"We need to ... restore an orderly process to our offshore energy planning program," declared Salazar, criticizing "foot dragging" by the Bush administration in pushing for renewable energy development in coastal waters.

Salazar did not rule out expanded offshore drilling, but criticized "the enormous sweep" of the Bush proposal, which envisioned energy development from New England to Alaska including lease sales in areas off California and in the North Atlantic that have been off-limits for a quarter century.

Congress last fall ended the broad drilling ban, dating back to 1981, that has kept energy companies from even exploring or conducting seismic studies across 85% of the offshore federal waters. But it remains up to the Interior Department to issue specific plans for drilling leases.

Salazar directed Interior Department scientists to produce new reports on how much oil and gas might be found off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and extended the public comment period on a new five-year leasing plan to September. He said he will hold regional meetings to get comments from the public before continuing with an offshore energy plan. Salazar said any offshore energy plan must include a push for more renewable energy, principally wind power.

"The Bush administration was so intent on opening new areas for oil and gas offshore that it torpedoed offshore renewable energy efforts," maintained Salazar. "It was not their priority."

He promised to move aggressively to complete a new regulation on offshore renewable energy programs including wind, solar and wave energy projects. But Salazar did not rule out an expansion off offshore oil and gas drilling, nor did he abandon a proposal for oil and gas leasing off Virginia, which is included in the current drilling plan scheduled to expire in 2012 or cancel leasing plans off Alaska.

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