Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has asked Senate leaders to set aside legislation to raise his annual salary by $19,600 after a senator threatened to block it if the pace of “new” permitting in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) did not return to the pre-BP plc Macondo well disaster rate.

Salazar fired off the letter Tuesday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) vowed to block the request for the pay raise if the department did not resume issuance of “new” permits for GOM deepwater exploratory drilling at the same rate before the explosion aboard the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig.

“It’s just my way of keeping the boot on the neck” of Interior, Vitter wrote in a letter to Salazar Monday. Although the department has reissued a number of permits to resume activities that were interrupted as a result of the Deepwater Horizon incident, it has issued only one “new” deepwater exploratory drilling permit since the moratorium was formally lifted in October.

In late March Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement’s issued to Chevron USA Inc. the first permit for completely new exploration since the federal moratorium was removed (see Daily GPI, March 25).

Salazar accused Vitter of “attempted coercion.” That position “is wrong, and it must be made perfectly clear that his attempt cannot and will not affect the execution of the solemn legal responsibility that the department undertakes on behalf of the American people,” he added.

The bill to raise Salazar’s salary was introduced by Reid last week. His current salary is $180,000, The Hill reported.

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