Vail-area Rep. Polis, Aspen-area Rep. Tipton strongly disagree on Obama energy policy speech

By David O. Williams
Real AspenMarch 31, 2011
Two Colorado congressmen whose districts include all or parts of the state's extensively drilled and mined Western Slope had very different reactions to Wednesday's speech on energy policy by President Barack Obama.

Obama, speaking at Georgetown University on the heels of a report he requested from the U.S. Department of Interior detailing unused oil and gas leases, took a shot at the 2008 “drill, baby, drill” Republican campaign rhetoric and chided today's GOP for trying to blame rising gas prices on his administration.

The report released Tuesday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, found that more than half of all onshore oil and gas leases on federal lands are not being used by the companies that purchased the leases, including only 32 percent of the leased federal lands in Colorado.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis

“When it comes to drilling onshore, my administration approved more than two permits last year for every new well that the industry started to drill,” Obama said Wednesday, according to a transcript. “So any claim that my administration is responsible for gas prices because we've ‘shut down' oil production might make for a useful political sound bite — but it doesn't track with reality.”

Republican freshman Scott Tipton, who represents the 3rd Congressional District and serves on the House Natural Resources Committee, issued this statement:

“President Obama announced today that he's on board with a goal Republicans have been pushing for a long time — to decrease our reliance on foreign oil,” Tipton said. “That's good news, but the devil is in the details.

“If the President is serious about his new commitment to American energy independence, he needs to work with Congress to open up American energy development with a yes-to-all approach that will stabilize our energy supply, increase revenue, and create jobs.”

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, whose 2nd Congressional District stretches from Boulder deep into the Western Slope in Eagle County, had this to say (also in a release):

“The president today confronted the ridiculous assertion that his administration's lands policies have led to high gas prices at the pump. The ‘drill baby drill' mentality persists, but we simply can't drill our way to lower gas prices or long term energy independence, because when it comes to drilling we're already wide open for business. Complex issues like international energy markets need detail oriented solutions, not just catch-phrases like ‘drill baby drill.'

“The facts are straightforward: the Obama administration has granted ample access to oil and gas development in the U.S., approving a higher percentage of permits in 2010 than during all but one year of the Bush administration. Recent years have seen record amounts of production, yet we still see high prices. Even with this access, leased acres sit untouched by companies — roughly 57 percent of onshore acres sit idle — and yet the industry wants more."
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar

Salazar released a report on Tuesday requested by Obama showing that two-thirds of all offshore oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and half of all onshore leases on federal lands are not currently being used by the energy companies that purchased the leases.In fact, the report reveals, the companies not only aren't producing any oil and gas on the leases, they also aren't currently conducting any exploration. The report is part of the administration's attempt to counteract Republican accusations that Salazar, a former Democratic senator from Colorado, has implemented too many environmental restrictions on domestic oil and gas drilling and is costing the country jobs.

“We continue to support safe and responsible domestic energy production, and as this report shows, millions of acres that have already been leased to industry for oil and gas production sit idle,” Salazar said in a release.

“These are resources that belong to the American people, and they expect those supplies to be developed in a timely and responsible manner and with a fair return to taxpayers. As we continue to offer new areas onshore and offshore for leasing, as we have done over the last two years, we will also be exploring ways to provide incentives to companies to bring production online quickly and safely.”

In Colorado and neighboring Utah, states with between 1 million and 5 million federal lease acres, only 32 percent and 22 percent of those acres, respectively, are currently being used for oil and gas production.

In Wyoming and New Mexico, both states with more than 5 million federal lease acres, only 33 percent and 69 percent of those acres, respectively, are being used for oil and gas production.

In his weekly newsletter on Sunday, Republican Colorado Congressman Cory Gardner blamed the White House for rising energy costs.

“As is the case with jobs and the economy, Washington is a big part of the problem when it comes to the cost of energy,” Gardner said. “Over the last two years, the Obama administration has consistently blocked American energy production that would lower costs and create jobs.

“It has imposed a de facto moratorium on drilling in this country, and it tried to pass a national cap-and-trade tax on energy. The result of the administration's freeze on energy production at home is that gas is on its way to $4 a gallon and unemployment remains high.”

Many analysts blame rising gasoline prices on a recovering global economy creating more demand around the world and ongoing political upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East. Gardner goes on to tout the “American Energy Initiative – an ongoing effort to stop government policies that are driving up gas prices.”

Gardner and other House Republicans, including Tipton, have been trying to gut the regulatory authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as block Salazar's Wild Lands proposal for identifying and designating appropriate U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands for wilderness protection.

Overall, the Salazar report found that about 45 percent of all onshore leases and 57 percent of all leased acres are idle. Of the more than 38 million leased onshore acres, nearly 22 million acres are not being used. The Department of Interior is considering “policy options to provide companies with additional incentives for more rapid development of oil and gas resources.”

Denver-based Matt Garrington, deputy director of the Checks & Balances Project, said in a release that “it's time to clear up the muddy waters around the drilling debate, and today's report by the Obama administration does just that. The simple truth is approval rates for drilling permits are up, and industry lays idle hands on over 21 million acres of public lands.

“We should put an end to Big Oil's speculation on our public lands and continue to move forward with responsible energy development.”

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