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House GOP Calls for Interior to Open New Leasing Areas

Ninety-eight House Republicans Friday sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urging him to proceed with the review of the Bush-era offshore leasing plan for 2010-2015 that was put on hold earlier this year.

"We urge the department to open [the] new leasing areas included in the 2010-2015 draft proposed offshore plan and responsibly develop the abundant energy resources off our coasts," the House Republicans said. The proposed leasing plan, which would open banned areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico (GOM), was issued in the final days of the Bush administration.

Calling the 2010-2015 leasing plan a "headlong rush of the worst kind," Salazar in February extended the public comment period by six months, during which time he ordered agency reports on traditional and renewable Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) resources and held four regional meetings on the OCS in Alaska, New Jersey, Louisiana and California (see NGI, Feb. 16).

In addition, the House Republicans urged Interior's Minerals Management Service to move forward with the existing OCS leasing plan for 2007-2012 "for all available areas, including the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and offshore Alaska." The appellate court in Washington, DC, vacated and remanded the existing offshore plan in April, saying it had not taken into consideration the environment sensitivity and marine productivity of various areas of the OCS that are included in the leasing plan, particularly offshore Alaska (see NGI, April 20).

Last Tuesday the appeals court clarified that its April decision only applied to areas offshore Alaska, not the GOM, and that its order to vacate and remand is delayed until Interior reassesses its environmental sensitivity rankings and the leasing schedule for Alaska (see related story).

"Administration officials...continue to stand in the way of new offshore drilling on America's Outer Continental Shelf. With 14.7 million Americans out of work, the Department of Interior should finally end its de facto moratorium on offshore drilling and take action to responsibly develop our oil and natural gas supply," said Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, the ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Other notable Republicans who signed the letter were House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana.

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