Salazar defends pulling oil-lease parcels in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday defended his decision to scrap much of the Bush administration’s final oil-lease sale in Utah even though his inspector general found no evidence of department pressure to rush the auction.

Salazar spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff told The Associated Press that Salazar acknowledges the investigation found no evidence federal employees were ordered to speed up a sale of drilling parcels near Utah’s national parks.

She said, however, that the report had no bearing on Salazar’s decision to scrap 77 of the leases two months after taking office.

The 10-page report submitted by John Dupuy, the assistant inspector general for investigations, was dated Dec. 28, 2009, but wasn’t released until late Monday. A copy was first sought under an open-records request by U.S.  Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who examined a draft in April.

The 77 leases, valued at $6.2 million, were already being held up by a federal lawsuit and Salazar wanted to take a “fresh look” at the parcels before deciding whether to release them, Barkoff said. The bidders got their money back.



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