[JURIST] US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar [official profile] on Wednesday announced new rules [press release] for obtaining leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands. The new rules were designed to provide a greater public voice in deciding how the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) [official website] awards these leases. In a statement, Salazar said, "[w]e need a fresh look – from inside the federal government and from outside – at how we can better manage Americans' energy resources." The announced changes [fact sheet, PDF] are extensive and include a required comprehensive review of each site, "public participation, an interdisciplinary review of available information, confirmation of Resource Management Plan (RMP) conformance, and national, state, and local guidance." Additionally, the new guidelines will increase oversight over so-called categorical exclusions, implemented under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 [text, PDF], which permit projects on federal land without extensive environmental review. The implemented changes to leasing policy will take effect immediately.
The genesis of the new leasing policy occurred in February 2009, when Salazar voided leases [Washington Post report] on 77 parcels of federal land in Utah. In describing his motivation, Salazar said in a statement [text] that the need for energy dependence must be balanced with the need to protect our public lands. Also in February, Salazar announced plans [JURIST report] by the Obama administration to reverse offshore drilling policies established by former US president George W. Bush [JURIST news archive] at the end of his presidency. The new strategy involves extending the public comment period on the proposed five-year plan for oil and gas development on the Alaskan Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) by 180 days, assembling a detailed report from Department of the Interior agencies on conventional and renewable offshore energy resources, holding four regional conferences to review these findings, and expediting renewable energy rulemaking for the OCS.