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Ken Salazar, the new Secretary of the Interior, who spent much of last week traipsing around the Denver area declaring that there's a new sheriff in town, has taken what he calls "an important first step" in restoring balance to federal public lands policy -- pulling the plug on a controversial sale of oil and gas leases on lands in close proximity to spectacular parks and wilderness areas in southeastern Utah.
In a February 4 teleconference with journalists, Salazar announced that he was ordering the Bureau of Land Management to withdraw energy leases for 77 parcels totaling 130,000 acres, which the Bush administration had offered for energy extraction in its final weeks. The sale triggered uproar among environmental groups and monkey-wrenching by one activist who slipped into the auction and placed false bids. Two weeks ago, a federal court issued a temporary restraining order suspending the leases.
Saying there was "inadequate consultation" with other federal agencies, including the National Park Service, over the leases, Salazar took the parcels off the table and promised a thorough review of environmental impacts before such lands would again be considered. In a visit to the Lakewood office of the Minerals Management Service last week, the Secretary bemoaned the ethics scandals in energy royalty collection -- see my 2008 report "Crossing Over" for more on that front. But today he declined to indicate whether particular employees may have violated BLM procedures in offering these parcels for energy development.
For more on what the new sheriff expects in the way of ethics from his posse, read the memo.