Interior Secretary Salazar calls on Congress to codify safety changes

04 25, 2012 by The Times-Picayune

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Tuesday called on Congress to codify new safety regulations imposed on offshore drilling by the Interior Department in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and to pass legislation needed to implement a new agreement with Mexico on exploiting oil and gas resources in the Gulf of Mexico. In a speech before the National Press Club, Salazar described those two actions as the "low-hanging fruit" of the doable for a Congress he otherwise disparaged as doing little but engage in "fairy tale" energy politics utterly disconnected from reality and the everyday concerns of most Americans.

Salazar said the real divide over energy in America was "between the real energy world and the imagined energy world where you hear cries of 'drill, drill, drill,' notwithstanding the fact that most of the (Outer Continental Shelf) resources are open for business, and two-thirds of the public lands that industry has leased are sitting idle."

"It's a place where up is down and left is right, where oil shale seems to be mistaken for shale oil, where record profits justify billions in subsidies and where rising U.S. production and falling dependence on foreign oil somehow add up to bad news," said Salazar. He said that the American people know that "not even Harry Potter can't wave a wand," and restore $2-a-gallon gas.

Salazar said that the future of drilling in the Gulf might have been very bleak if the administration had not ably responded to the BP spill.

"Witnessing oil spew into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days could have easily prompted the public to say: 'no more, no mas,'" said Salazar. "We had to move quickly and aggressively to strengthen safety standards and environmental protections. We had to ensure that companies drilling in the deepwater were prepared to deal with a blowout. And we had to divide the three conflicting missions of the Minerals Management Service into strong and separate agencies."

Echoing the call last week of the former members of the federal Oil

Spill Commission, Salazar said Congress "should move immediately to codify the reforms we have implemented."

"It's inexcusable that Congress has yet to enact one piece of legislation to make drilling safer," he said.

He also said Congress should also enact legislation that would enable consummation of an agreement with Mexico on transboundary oil and gas development in the Gulf. It would "terminate a moratorium on drilling along our maritime boundary and provide a framework for new exploration and development in an area the size of Delaware."

Salazar was asked whether he thought that Sen. David Vitter, R-La., had engaged in an act of "extortion" by blocking a raise bringing Salazar's pay in line with other Cabinet members until Interior's permitting for new deepwater wells returned to the pace it had been at before Salazar imposed a moratorium on permitting in the wake of the disaster.

Noting that he had entered the Senate with Vitter in 2004, Salazar said, "I don't know what his motives were, but I don't do this job for the money I get paid. I do this job because it's the best job in the Cabinet and I enjoy fixing things for the American people. We've made tremendous progress."

The Senate Ethics Committee recently dismissed a complaint that Vitter's behavior amounted to an act of bribery, but sent all senators a letter notifying them that in the future that kind of threat would be viewed as "improper conduct."

Vitter responded that he would "absolutely place a hold on any raise for him in the future," but, so as not to run afoul of the Ethics Committee guideline, this time there would be no quid pro quo.