Sec. Salazar Cancels Gas & Oil Leases

Last Wednesday, President Obama’s newly appointed Secretary of the Interior canceled leases on 77 parcels of land in Utah that the Bush administration offered up for gas and oil drilling in a last-minute attempt to help his cronies. Amongst those were the parcels bid upon by the clever young activist who committed civil disobedience by bidding on them when he knew he could not afford to pay, to keep the oil companies from spreading their destruction on lands near his home.

Other 11th Hour actions by the Bush adminstration are also being reviewed. It is the expressed opinion of Secretary Salazar that the Bush Adminstration “rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our greatest national icons, some of our nation’s most treasured landscapes” and that they did so without legitimate scientific review or consultation.

Salazar didn’t say new drilling was categorically out, but rather that the Obama administration would find a “new balance” between protecting cherished and sensitive park areas and allowing public lands to be used for exploration and drilling for gas and oil.

In January, a Federal District Court judge in Washington agreed that Bush’s Department of the Interior had not done proper research. The judge issued an injunction preventing the oil and gas companies from taking possession of the leases.

Canceling the leases is a fait accomplis. The government will give up $6 million in fees for those leases, but this is small price to pay, considering the permanent damage that the leases could have done to the unique geography of that part of the country.

“This is a critical first step and a dramatic difference from the Bush administration,” said Sharon Buccino, senior lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which worked on the lawsuit to block the leases.

Kathleen Sgamma, who represents independent natural gas and oil producers, expressed “grave concerns” over the direction the new administration was taking. “This is going to make it more difficult to develop the natural gas resources we need for our nation’s energy security,” she complained. It’s not surprising that oil and gas barons would be upset by the Obama administration’s move, but they don’t have a fellow oil baron in the Oval Office anymore. If this nation does what it can to achieve independence from combustion engines, the gas and oil can become outdated, unnecessary, and that is a far greater security for everyone.

Mr. Salazar said reviews of other Bush administration choices are continuing in nearly a dozen policy areas, including offshore drilling and endangered species. Special attention is being given to those made in Bush’s final months.

The oil and gas barons may not be happy, but the rest of us see it as a very welcome sign that President Obama and Mr. Salazar are taking the sacred trust seriously, and that they realize that further drilling is not the solution the U.S. or the world need.

A travesty was just reversed, and other such disasters will most certainly be avoided. Cudos to President Obama and Secretary Salazar. Now just pardon that young patriot who bid on the leases as a brave act of civil disobedience, and you’ll have the appreciation of this Green nation!

What happens on land nearly always affects the oceans. All of the earth is linked, inextricably linked into one global ecology. It all comes back to the source, the ocean, and protecting the ocean brings life and health to us all.

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