A conservative group Monday put pressure on the Obama administration to disclose the breakdown of the half-million public comments that it received on the Bush-era five-year plan (2010-2015) to open more offshore areas to oil and natural gas leasing.

“For eight months Americans submitted comments to the Minerals Management Service [MMS] regarding the newest offshore oil and gas leasing program in the Outer Continental Shelf [OCS]. Even though the comment period ended over a month ago, MMS has been mum on the breakdown of the results,” said Washington, DC-based American Solutions, which was created by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

“Despite claims by Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar that the process for leasing portions of the [OCS] for oil and gas would not happen ‘behind closed doors,’ that looks to be exactly what is happening.”

The group on Monday filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain all relevant MMS documents relating to the comment period, including comment tabulations and internal correspondence discussing the results.

Interior said it received more than 530,000 comments on the proposed OCS leasing plan for 2010-2015. “Sources confirm that comments in support of offshore drilling outnumber those opposed by 2-1, yet the administration is refusing to tell the whole truth about what Americans want and how they plan to move forward,” American Solutions said.

Citing the Bush administration’s “headlong” rush to push through the 2010-2015 leasing plan before leaving office, Salazar in February put the brakes on it. The proposed leasing plan, which would open banned areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, was issued on Jan. 16, the last business day of the Bush administration (see Daily GPI, Jan. 20). This action, if left unchecked, would have accelerated by two years the regular process for creating a new plan for the OCS.

“In my view it was a headlong rush of the worst kind,” Salazar said. Moreover, the process during the Bush era was “tilted toward the usual energy players, while renewable energy companies and interests…were being overlooked.”

Salazar extended the comment period to Sept. 23, which slowed the process. He further directed MMS and the U.S. Geological Survey to issue a report on traditional and renewable OCS resources within 45 days. And 30 days following the issuance of the report, Salazar hosted four regional meetings on the OCS in Alaska and along the Eastern Seaboard, West Coast and Gulf of Mexico.

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