This editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has plenty on his plate during his fourth visit to Alaska — his third as a Cabinet member. It’s part of a continuing education by which the secretary has developed a good sense of Alaska’s value, challenges and potential.
Energy is the main focus of this trip, and to that end Salazar said Monday that he expects Shell will be able to begin drilling in the Arctic next summer and also that Conoco Phillips and federal agencies hope to work a way for the oil company to bridge the Colville River and tap more oil in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Given the reorganization of Interior’s regulation of offshore drilling and operations after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, does he have confidence that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement can do the job?
“I do on specific projects,” he said, Shell’s Beaufort project being one of them. Overall, however, “I don’t believe we have the resources to do the job.” He said the House-passed budget that would gut Interior programs was shortsighted, and while he understands the need for cuts and greater efficiencies, he sees no wisdom in hobbling oversight of energy production or the nation’s parks and refuges.
Salazar said Alaska is vital to the Obama administration’s goal of increasing U.S. oil and gas production while pursuing more renewables and enacting conservation measures like mileage requirements for U.S. vehicles. He talked about the need to move forward on all fronts in the Arctic, with exploration, research and cooperation with other Arctic nations as the region opens up. He accepts that no oil and gas development can be risk-free but that we can cut risk as we meet our need to produce — as long as we have the means.
Along with the energy focus, Salazar visited Kodiak during this trip for a quick lesson on the value of salmon and bears, is meeting with Native leaders on energy and subsistence issues, joined a roundtable business meeting in Anchorage, and will stop in Barrow, Fairbanks and Denali National Park.
Interior long has had a central — and often unpopular — role in Alaska. But Salazar, a former Colorado attorney general and U.S. senator, knows the Western perspective. He’s no stranger to the old Alaska debate of conservation versus development and all its variables, having wrestled with it on the national level as senator and secretary. He wants development done right, while recognizing “there are some places you need to protect.”
Salazar can see salmon, bears and a full pipeline — not necessarily in the same place but in the same state. It’s an encouraging view.