Salazar signals a change

It should come as no great surprise that new Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar acted this week to put the brakes on the pell-mell rush of natural gas leasing on public lands that was instituted under the Bush administration.

As a U.S. senator, Salazar long voiced concerns about the Bush approach to leasing, and he has a sympathetic ear with his new boss, President Barack Obama, who made it clear during the campaign he intended to overturn a number of Bush measures.

So Salazar’s decision to halt scores of gas leases approved in the final months of the Bush administration for eastern Utah is not a great shock. The leases provoked a controversy and prompted a lawsuit, not just because they were authorized in the waning days of Bush’s tenure but because many of them were inordinately close to iconic public lands such as Arches National Park and Dinosaur National Monument.

The Bureau of Land Management, which conducts the leasing, pulled some of the areas from last year’s lease after people objected. But others remained in close proximity to the parks and monuments, and a lawsuit was filed by environmental groups.

There are other lands in the 103,000 acres of leases that are not so close to the parks and monuments, which could reasonably be allowed to proceed. Salazar ought to re-examine them and consider them for leasing.

Some observers decried Salazar’s action this week, suggesting it is proof that Salazar and the Obama administration are out to halt extraction of natural resources in this country. We don’t believe that’s the case. If Obama wanted that outcome, he would likely have chosen one of the more environmentally radical people suggested for secretary of interior instead of Salazar, who has a more moderate reputation.

But Obama did win the election and he and Salazar both made it clear they would pursue policies far different than Bush’s team. Salazar’s action this week highlights their intention to do so.


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