Utah congressional delegation's GOP members blast Salazar's lease order

Republicans in Utah's congressional delegation angrily responded to US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's order to cancel 77 federal oil and gas leases in the state which were sold in December.

"Here we are trying to work through a terrible economic downturn, and the recently empowered liberal elitists decide to officially begin their war on US energy security," US Sen. Orrin G. Hatch said after Salazar announced on Feb. 4 that he would order the US Bureau of Land Management to reject 77 leases auctioned on Dec. 18 because they were too close to Arches National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Nine-Mile Canyon.

"The argument that these leases have been cancelled to protect our national parks is a fairy tale conjured up to win public support for what is actually a very dangerous anti-oil agenda," said Hatch, the state's senior US senator.

US Sen. Robert B. Bennett and Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz also condemned Salazar's action. Jim Matheson, the delegation's only Democrat, did not have a statement posted at his online website.

"These leases would have been subject to the most stringent environmental protections BLM has ever implemented in Utah, and each of these parcels had been approved by the National Park Service. I am concerned that today's announcement was motivated more by political reasons than for environmental reasons, and I hope this is not a preview of what is to come for Utah in the Obama administration," Bennett said.

Noting that 97% of the US transportation sector relies on oil, Hatch said that many federal lawmakers are trying to change that by providing appropriate incentives for wind, geothermal and solar power.

'At serious risk'

"But when it comes to vehicles, we're just simply stuck with oil for the near future. It's not a fact I am comfortable with, but it's still a fact. And every year, we rely more and more on unfriendly foreign governments for that oil. Once the global economy begins to recover and energy demand goes up, the anti-oil agenda now being pushed by President [Barack H.] Obama will put our nation at serious risk and lead us back to outrageous energy prices," he continued.

"Frankly, I'm astounded at the timing of this decision," said Bishop. "At the very time our nation is debating legislation to create jobs and shore up our economy, the Department of the Interior is taking steps to kill jobs and economic development in my home state. This sale would have expanded employment and stimulated the economy of Utah. Secretary Salazar's decision today has robbed taxpayers of millions of dollars of royalties and tax payments."

Chaffetz said he had been cautious in his initial assessments of Obama and Salazar because he hoped they would both recognize the Intermountain West's important role in supplying domestic energy. "Today's action, by executive fiat, is a cruel kick to an already downtrodden economy. It deprives Utah and the US treasury of needed income during a time of severe economic recession, and it deprives the rural parts of my state of the best paying and most stable jobs out there," he indicated.

"It also deprives all Americans of valuable American-made energy resources. It's hard not to be cynical when the Democratic administration, drunk with its new-found power, makes such irresponsible decisions," Chaffetz added.

On a key committee

Bishop and Chaffetz are both members of the House Natural Resources Committee and are likely to press Salazar on his decision when the secretary appears before the committee in another few weeks to discuss DOI's proposed fiscal 2010 budget. They also are part of the congressional Western Caucus, a 40-member group established in 1992 which advocates responsible energy and economic development in the West and throughout the country.

Other members of that group also criticized Salazar's action. "Congress and the administration should embrace energy policies that promote conservation, encourage renewable energy development and increase our domestic oil supplies in an environmentally safe manner. Closing access to domestic energy hurts our economy, deprives our nation of revenues and places our long-term energy security in jeopardy. It is disappointing that Secretary Salazar, who is from the West, has decided to side with East Coast environmental interests," said Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the caucus's policy chairman.

"Taking more land out of production puts us further at the mercy of nations hostile to the United States. It also is a body blow to American consumers just when our country needs to create more jobs. It is odd that the Obama administration would talk about stimulating jobs on one hand and make life more difficult for consumers and working families on the other," said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.).

"The Obama administration is now attacking Americans," asserted Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.). "Simply put, Secretary Salazar's action today will cost Americans jobs. America has energy resources which need to be developed and it is insane to outsource these jobs to energy industry workers in Saudi Arabia, Russia and Venezuela."

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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