| News |

Ken Salazar: Did he blow the call on Utah energy leases?

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Update, 4:30 pm: As Mike McKee predicts below, the Inspector General's report on the lease sales is now posted on the Department of the Interior's website. For the report summary, go here.

Utah County Commissioner Mike McKee wants Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to release an internal report that concludes there was nothing improper about dozens of oil and gas leases in eastern Utah.

Salazar canceled those leases in the early weeks of the Obama administration.

McKee says that cancellation of the leases, issued in the final weeks of the Bush administration, cost thousands of jobs in his county. The county has sued the DOI over the action, and McKee claims to have recently learned that an investigation by Interior's Inspector General "exonerates" the leases.

The Bureau of Land Management's last-minute auction of the 77 leases, many located close to wilderness areas and national parks in eastern Utah, stirred outrage among environmental groups. On January 17, 2009, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order suspending the leases. Salazar canceled them three weeks later, criticizing the BLM for failing to consult adequately with park officials.

Fallout over the leases has continued to dog Salazar's efforts to transform Interior and implement more stringent leasing rules in the new administration's push toward alternative energy development. Conservative anger over the cancellations stalled for weeks the confirmation of Salazar's chief deputy, David Hayes. After the impasse was finally broken, Hayes led a review of the situation that resulted in some leases being offered again while most were "deferred" for further evaluation.

As litigation over the decision lurches toward trial, McKee maintains that the IG's own probe found no evidence that Bush officials exerted political pressure on the BLM to issue the leases and that the process involved no violation of internal rules or policies. "If the whole process was flawed, why didn't they withdraw all the leases?" McKee asks. "The process was not flawed."

But to date, the department hasn't made the report public. While Interior has offered little or no comment on McKee's allegations, a spokeswoman did tell Grand Junction's Daily Sentinel that the report "has no bearing" on Salazar's decision "to withdraw the leases to conduct further reviews."

Maybe, McKee suggests, it should have. He expects that the department will soon be compelled to release the document on its website. "I suspect that there's going to be an effort to minimize this report, but the report will speak for itself," he says.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.