Ken Salazar: BLM decision on Vermillion Basin a classic bit of Kenmanship

The long-awaited, much-debated Bureau of Land Management plan for oil-and-gas drilling on public lands in northwest Colorado has something in it to annoy everybody.

In other words, it's the kind of classic, middle-of-the-road, concessions-to-all-sides-and-favoritism-toward-none compromise we've come to expect from the Department of the Interior under Secretary Ken Salazar -- a centrist ex-Senator on a quest for balance, a benign pragmatist who's become the middling master of the midway.

On one hand, the Little Snake Resource Management Plan allows drilling leases on 90 percent of the 2.4 million acres with mineral rights controlled by BLM, a bitter pill to environmental groups that had hoped Salazar's Interior would be more zealous in guarding his home state from potential large-scale energy exploitation. But it also protects the spectacular Vermillion Basin from the oil companies, along with a key stretch of the Yampa River and some sensitive wildlife areas -- outraging drill-baby-drill types who claim the government greenies are ignoring community input and hankering for economic growth.

You can find the entire ponderous Record of Decision here.

Some of the country's largest remaining deer and elk herds inhabit the study area, as well as a substantial population of the imperiled greater sage grouse. With lawsuits stalling the planned march of drill rigs on the Roan Plateau, the Little Snake area looms as the largest potential gas play on public lands in the state not yet under lease.

The plan announced yesterday is part of a slow, Salazarian retreat from the Bush administration embrace of rigs from sea to shining sea. It's got the usual energy industry spokesfolks howling about the need for energy independence. But it's the administration's position (and Salazar's argument in particular) that the oil-and-gas-crowd aren't diligently pursuing many of the leases they already have on public lands. More areas can be opened up down the line, certainly. But nobody's making any more deer, elk, grouse, or wild and scenic rivers.

Some firm, off-limits designations for sensitive wildlife areas provide a degree of certainty in environmental planning, at least for the life of this administration, amid a tide of half-measures. It may not be the full deal that any particular group wanted out of the plan, but it's a start in the search for the elusive middle.

More from our News archive: "Ken Salazar's move to restrict drilling rejected by federal judge."