At a news conference in Washington, Salazar said he will move to slow the "headlong rush" to "drill, drill, drill."
"The Bush administration was so intent on opening new areas for oil and gas offshore that it torpedoed offshore renewable energy efforts," said the secretary.
One the world's largest offshore wind farms, HornsRev, has 80 turbines spinning in the North Sea 10 miles west of Denmark. It produces enough energy for 150,000 households. (Photo ©DONG Energy A/S)
Other countries, mainly in Europe and China, have developed offshore wind farms and wave energy turbine arrays, but the United States has yet to permit any offshore renewable facilities.
Salazar said Bush's midnight five year plan, which covers the years from 2013 through 2017, accelerated by two years the regular process for creating a new plan for the outer continental shelf.
It "was a process rigged to force hurried decisions based on bad information," he said. "It was a process tilted toward the usual energy players while renewable energy companies and the interests of American consumers and taxpayers were overlooked."
"It opened up the possibility for oil and gas leasing along the entire eastern seaboard, portions of offshore California, and the far eastern Gulf of Mexico - with almost no consideration of state, industry, and community input and, in the case of the Atlantic coast, with very limited information about the nature of offshore resources," the secretary said.
Despite the sweeping proposal to open up as many as 300 million acres to new offshore oil and gas leasing, the Bush administration's notice called for the completion of scoping meetings and public hearings on the new plan for the outer continental shelf by March 23 - less than 45 days from today.
Instead, Salazar said he is taking four steps to change the way the Interior Department does business in order to fulfill President Barack Obama's commitment to "a government that is open and inclusive and that makes decisions based on sound science and the public interest."
First, he will add 180 days to the time period for public comment on the 2013-2017 five year plan, extending the comment period to September 23.
Second, he is directing the Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to assemble a report, within 45 days from today, of all the information we have about our offshore resources to determine where gaps in information exist.
Third, in the 30 days that follow the report, the secretary will hold four regional meetings around the country to gather the best ideas for how we move forward. One meeting will be held in Alaska, one on the Pacific Coast, one on the Atlantic Coast, and one on the Gulf Coast.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar introduces his new approach to offshore energy production. (Photo by Tami Heilemann courtesy DOI)
So that potential developers know the rules of the road, Salazar said that in the next few months he will issue a final rulemaking for offshore renewables as required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which the secretary says he helped to craft while he was in the Senate representing Colorado.
"That bill, which President [George W.] Bush signed on August 8, 2005, required the Department of the Interior to move quickly and issue, within nine months, rules and regulations to guide the development of offshore energy resources like wind, wave, and tidal power," he said.
"Yet it took three years for the Bush administration to prepare a proposed rule for offshore renewable energy development, Salazar said. "They left office without putting any final regulations in place because it was not their priority, notwithstanding the requirement of the law. For them, it was oil and gas or nothing."
"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," he said.
Meanwhile, the department will stay with the current five year plan and there will be oil and gas lease sales offshore, the secretary said.
The American Petroleum Institute was quick to criticize Salazar's moves.
API President Jack Gerard said, "The accelerated Outer Continental Shelf five-year plan process, which the secretary placed on hold today, was designed to address the critical energy concerns facing Americans. The draft plan already received a record 120,000 comments from states, environmental groups, industry, labor groups and members of the public - with 87,000 of those comments supporting expanded and expeditious development."
"Secretary Salazar's announcement means that development of our offshore resources could be stalled indefinitely," said Gerard. "That would delay Americans' access to nearly 160,000 new, well-paying jobs, $1.7 trillion in revenues to federal, state and local governments and greater energy security."
But environmentalists are pleased with the Obama administration's new approach to offshore energy resources.
Wesley Warren, director of programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "By committing to a thorough review, Salazar is demonstrating bold leadership that will offer America a new energy future that provides clean domestic energy and cuts our dependence on foreign oil."
"We are encouraged by Salazar's commitment to a new approach to offshore energy - harnessing the power of the wind, sun and oceans - which will provide America with a full range of energy resources," Warren said.
"New offshore drilling would risk oil spills from Florida to Maine, and all along the Pacific Coast," he said. "This would not only cause tremendous economic damage to fishing and tourism communities, but it would destroy habitat for wildlife, and hurt all of us who live, work and vacation in these places."
The Department of the Interior oversees 1.7 billion offshore acres - an area roughly three-fourths of the size of the entire terrestrial United States.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.