WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday the expansion of offshore oil drilling should be worked out with Congress as part of a broad energy blueprint and not independent action by his department.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Salazar indicated the drilling plan the Bush administration left on his desk likely will be scrapped. It would open the entire Atlantic and Pacific coasts for drilling.
Salazar declined to single out any waters considered automatically off limits to oil exploration.
"There are places that are appropriate for exploration and development and there are places that are not," Salazar said in an interview in his spacious and historic office, with a fire roaring in the fireplace beneath a full-length painting of George Washington.
Salazar, who resigned as Colorado senator to join President Barack Obama's Cabinet, said he wants to work closely with Congress on "a plan that makes sense" for offshore oil and gas development, but that any expansion of drilling should be part of a comprehensive energy plan.
Congress last year failed to renew the long-standing moratorium on oil and gas exploration across 85 percent of the nation's Outer Continental Shelf, leaving all waters potentially open to drilling. Congressional Republicans and energy lobbyists have argued against even a partial reimposition by Congress of an offshore drilling ban.
Four days before leaving office, officials in the Bush administration issued a draft of a five-year drilling plan that calls for energy leases to be made available in both the Atlantic and Pacific waters, including vast areas that until recently had been off limits for a quarter century.
But Salazar indicated that plan is all but dead.
"It seems to me the appropriate place to address the OCS and issues like royalty reform would be in the context of an energy bill," said Salazar, referring to Outer Continental Shelf development and an overhaul of the way his department collects royalties from drilling in federal waters.
Scrapping the Bush plan would be a mistake, said House Republican Leader John Boehner. "Moving forward with a reasonable and environmentally safe plan will ultimately lower gasoline prices for American families," the Ohio lawmaker said.
On other subjects during the interview, Salazar:
_Made clear that investigations into the gift and conflict-of-interest scandals at the Minerals Management Service that led to the firing of several people and disciplinary action against others is not yet resolved. He promised further reviews to determine if the investigations "led to the right actions."
_Cautioned against pushing too fast on oil shale development in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah until more is known about the impact on water resources and climate change. Oil shale extraction requires a lot of water that could strain the resources of the Colorado River and huge amounts of electric power that could impact climate change, he said. "We're going to have to be very thoughtful in the way it's going to be developed."
_Promised to review at least 10 "midnight regulatory actions" by the outgoing Bush administration, citing as examples regulations to limit the reach of the Endangered Species Act, oil shale permitting, and oil and gas permits issued near two national parks in Utah.
"I'm troubled by many of the midnight actions by the administration. We'll take a look at them one at a time and make the right decision going forward," said Salazar.
Salazar, 53, who was among a group of Cabinet nominations confirmed unanimously on the day of Obama's inauguration, has been quick to make his presence known at the Interior Department. He addressed employees on Jan. 22 and the next day made a trip to the Statue of Liberty in New York City, a monument managed by the U.S. Park Service. On Tuesday, he conducted separate interviews with a number of news organizations.