Is Salazar Lowballing Gulf Drilling Applications?

Ken Salazar photoTwo weeks ago, we asked whether Interior Secretary Ken Salazar considered himself above the law by ignoring court orders to resume the permitting process for deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Now we learn that Salazar may have misled Congress and the public on the number of drilling permit applications he is ignoring.

Yesterday, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) accused Salazar, along with Michael Bromwich, the director of the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement, of using bogus figures. During Congressional testimony on March 2, and on other occasions, Salazar and Bromwich used much lower figures than those cited in a filing last week in the Justice Department’s appeal of the court order to begin issuing permits.

In a letter to Salazar and Bromwich, Vitter wrote:

Over the last several weeks and months, you have indicated publicly, before Congress, and privately to members, including myself, that there are only a handful of permits awaiting agency action. Specifically: Secretary Salazar’s testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee two weeks ago stating that the administration has received only 47 shallow water permit applications over the past nine months, and that only 7 deepwater permit applications are pending; Mr. Bromwich personally stating to me that only 6 deepwater permits applications are pending; and Mr. Bromwich’s public statement that deepwater permit approvals will be limited because “only a handful of completed applications have been received.”

Your statements are completely inconsistent with the DOJ’s motion filing last week for a stay of Judge Martin Feldman’s rulings. On page 11 of that filing, the DOJ notes that there is potential harm in the “re-prioritization that results from the court’s orders” to issue seven permits in Feldman’s February and March orders. DOJ explains that this is because there are 270 shallow water permit applications pending, and 52 deepwater permit applications pending.

You don’t have to be a U.S. Senator to wonder about just six (Bromwich) or seven (Salazar) deepwater drilling applications. Anyone with any familiarity with the Gulf, and the region’s economy, knows that demand for drilling is a far more extensive than suggested by these figures.

Ever since the Deepwater Horizon blew, there has been nothing but bad faith from the Administration. Worst of all, there is now a confluence of interests, reinforced by Salazar, between deepwater drilling opponents and BP. Both have alleged that the disaster resulted from industry-wide practices, rather than problems specific to BP. This is the rationale for the drilling moratorium, and for Salazar’s foot-dragging in issuing permits.

It is time for Salazar to start obeying the law and telling the truth.


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