Salazar’s Successes

desolation-canyon.jpgI didn’t think I’d be saying this, two weeks into the Obama Administration. But thus far, Ken Salazar has been the high point of the new Administration for me.

Yesterday, we learned via POGO that Salazar is interested in reopening cases against those at the Minerals Management Service who made a mockery of that department. 

According to several sources at the department, Salazar is specifically interested in Gregory Smith and Lucy Denett. They’re both former high-ranking Interior officials; Justice declined to prosecute either one.

Smith is a former director of the controversial royalty-in-kind program at MMS. He took tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from a company that wanted to do business with oil and gas companies, and accepted gifts and trips from the industry. Denett ran the Minerals Revenue Management agency, part of MMS, and steered more than $1 million in contracts to a friend.

These are the alleged crimes, recall, referred to DOJ–including alleged sexual assault of a subordinate–that Michael Mukasey didn’t think merited prosecution.

And today we get the news that Salazar is going to cancel Bush’s last minute drilling leases on sensitive land in UT. 

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is cancelling oil and gas leases on 77 parcels of federal land in Utah, according to sources familiar with the decision, ending a fierce battle over whether to allow energy exploration in the environmentally-sensitive area.

The Bush administration conducted the lease sale in December, but environmental groups went to court to block the winning bids encompassing roughly 110,000 acres near pristine areas such as Nine Mile Canyon, Arches National Park and Dinosaur National Monument.

Just before Bush left office last month, U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina issued a restraining order on the lease sales, postponing the final transactions until he could hear arguments on the merits of the case.

An Interior spokesman declined to comment on the matter, but several sources familiar with the decision said Salazar planned to announce it later today, adding that he can reject the winning bids without a penalty because the transactions had not become final and the department has the discretion to accept or reject lease bids that prevail at a public auction.

He’s also modifying upcoming leases in Wyoming to account for local concerns about conservation and recreation.

Granted, thus far Salazar has simply set about reversing some of the most egregious abuses of the Bush Administration. But I gotta thank Salazar for making sure that’s at least happening somewhere.

20 replies
  1. diablesseblu says:

    Hope this type of action is a harbinger of future actions by other Cabinet appointees.

    Great read EW.

  2. BlueStateRedHead says:

    What will happen to the grad student who caused an auction to be canceled by forcing up the bids? Wasn’t he charged with some crime. Maybe obstruction of injustice.

    • BlueStateRedHead says:

      answer on front page dkos:

      Unclear at the moment is where that leaves University of Utah economics student Tim DeChristopher, one of the most sophisticated, effective, and constructive monkey-wrenchers ever. He won 13 leases in his partially successful attempt to derail the auction. With those leases now canceled, his legal jeopardy might be dissolved. Salazar refused to comment on the case in this call, merely stating that it has been referred to the DOJ.

    • MrWhy says:

      obstruction of injustice

      That would be an excellent slogan for a t-shirt for many a protest. Is it a well known phrase? Maybe you should copyright it.

  3. dosido says:

    wow. wyoming? that’s cheney country. take that, Dick!

    seriously, I know that hunters and conservationists have banded together in a “strange bedfellows” alliance v. gas and energy companies and interests.

    Thanks for posting this. I would not have heard about it otherwise!

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      This is evidence of just how important Howard Dean’s 50 State, Mountain West strategy was for this nation.

      Cattle ranchers and other Westerners have been **screwed** by oil companies and drillers arriving to claim ‘mineral rights’ (and extraction rights) below the surface. These laws originate in the 1880s and 1890s. Basically, you may have purchased your property, but the oil companies come in under old, grandfather regs that people didn’t know existed and claim the rights to sub-surface resources going back 100 years and more.

      One more grateful note of thanks to Howard Dean, but also this is looking like a smart Obama pick. More, please!

  4. JohnLopresti says:

    Defenders of Wildlife has crafted a 2012 website addressing several species which the erstwhile governor of AK has plugged into her rough and ready campaign; I hope EPA’s gagged scientists can help Interior with this remedial look at suppressed evidence in some notoriously weak decisions. USFS needs some scrutiny in ID, too.

  5. BlueStateRedHead says:

    Delurking. it’s Fitzmas in New Mexico. TPM is announcing that

    U.S. Attorney Scandal: Feds Probe Domenici for Obstruction of Justice In Iglesias Firing
    By Murray Waas – February 4, 2009, 5:14PM

    and I am crying.

    • Petrocelli says:

      Honest question: Should we be gleeful, given that Mukasey appointed Dannehy ? Do you think she is whitewashing this or will we see some real prosecuting ?

  6. skdadl says:

    Just a footnote, I guess, but Judge Ricardo Urbina is the judge who ordered seventeen of the Uighur detainees at GTMO not only freed but brought to his court in DC way back in October. That order was stayed by an appellate court (am I getting my language right here?), and I don’t think it has moved much since then.

    • skdadl says:

      Good heavens! Thank you very much for that link, John, and me, I’m all in favour of bringing the Uighurs here, although I’d also like to see Omar Khadr back home too.

      Where did that initiative come from, though? At the time of Judge Urbina’s decision, we were reading interesting articles about the DC Uighur community, which is apparently a thriving and socially healthy one, and they were eager to take the detainees in, which Urbina thought was a good idea too. So what happened?

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