Salazar will review leasing in Chukchi Sea, Bristol Bay

OIL AND GAS: Interior secretary says he'll push for wind energy.

March 12, 2009 

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gestures during an interview with The Associated Press in Washington.

J. DAVID AKE / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said this week that the waters off the Atlantic coast hold some of the country's greatest wind energy potential, and he promised to move aggressively to develop plans to exploit the resource.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Salazar also said he wants to review objections to oil and gas leasing in Alaska's Bristol Bay and the Chukchi Sea, where environmentalists argue that the threat to fisheries and polar bears has not been adequately examined, and off Virginia, where the governor has raised concerns.

Salazar called for the creation of "renewable energy zones" to smooth development of offshore wind projects and to spur solar energy in the Southwest and onshore wind energy in the Great Plains.

"The scientists tell me that when you look at the wind energy potential off the Atlantic it may be greater than we have onshore," Salazar said. "But what we don't have in place at this point is the rules to move forward with energy offshore."

Salazar said that states like New Jersey and Delaware are "raring to go" with wind energy projects. But he acknowledged that officials in other coastal states, such as Massachusetts, are divided.

A $1 billion project to erect 130 giant wind turbines off Cape Cod has long been opposed by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who has argued it would kill birds, endanger sea life and imperil the area's tourism and fishing industries. The state's Democratic governor, Deval Patrick, supports it.

Salazar on Monday said the project "makes sense."

"From what I know of the Cape Cod wind project it is a good project," he said.

The standoff in Massachusetts could play out across the country as Salazar seeks to expand renewable electricity production and the transmission lines to carry it on public lands. Both are needed, he said, to curb the nation's dependence on foreign oil and deal with the heat-trapping emissions from the burning of fossil fuels that are linked to global warming.

When asked about opposition, Salazar said it was imperative that "we get this thing done and not get stuck in a not-in-my-backyard syndrome." He also said it is a "false choice" to pit aggressive development of renewable energy against the protection of the country's wildlife and treasured landscapes.

On other subjects, Salazar said he wants to:

• Take another look at a Bush administration regulation allowing loaded firearms in national parks. He said the Justice Department is defending the agency's rule-making process. Salazar said while the department believes the legal process was followed correctly, "it's important to take a look at the environment and public safety aspects" of allowing firearms in national parks.

• Resolve a 12-year-old Indian trust lawsuit in which the government is accused of swindling Native Americans of billions of dollars in royalty payments for natural resources and grazing access. Salazar called the case "a blemish on the United States and the Department of Interior."

Salazar said that on many issues involving the Interior Department, the Bush administration took shortcuts that didn't fully account for science. He said the presidential memorandum signed Monday by President Barack Obama would help to restore science at the department on issues ranging from climate and energy to endangered species.

"What needs to happen is that decision-making has got to be made with the best of science and the best of the facts on the table," he said.

Obama has already put on hold a Bush administration decision limiting the input of federal scientists in deciding whether a project can harm endangered species. The Interior Department has scrapped plans for leases to test out oil shale development on federal land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Salazar said Monday that the Bush administration put the "cart before the horse" when it came to oil shale, and that difficult scientific questions had not yet been answered.


Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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