(CNSNews.com) - President-elect Barack Obama’s secretary of the interior nominee, Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), said he will consider restoring parts of an expired federal ban on offshore oil drilling, but told CNSNews.com that he has “no idea” how much of the drilling restrictions should be reimposed.
Salazar spoke to CNSNews.com outside his confirmation hearing in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources on Thursday.
Back in June, President George W. Bush lifted an 18-year-old executive order banning new offshore drilling that had been put in place by his father, President George H.W. Bush, and extended by President Bill Clinton.
At the end of September, Congress, which was in the midst of crafting a $700 billion financial bailout and facing nationwide pressure to lower gas prices and remove the ban, allowed a 26-year old moratorium of offshore oil drilling that had been annually attached to the Interior Department funding bill, to expire. A more recent moratorium on developing shale-oil lands, which are mostly in the west, also was allowed to expire.
Since then, the Bureau of Land Management has allowed bidding on leases for oil exploration and some land has been leased.
Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), told CNSNews.com on Thursday that they are concerned the incoming Obama administration will try to restore the ban.
When Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) asked Salazar about a possible reinstatement of the ban, he said, “There are places in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) where it is appropriate for drilling.”
But when CNSNews.com asked Salazar how much of the ban he would push to restore as secretary of the interior, he said he did not know.
“I have no idea,” said Salazar.
Back in September, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), told CNSNews.com that restoring the ban on new offshore oil drilling leases “will be a top priority for discussion” in the Congress in 2009.
Republicans are concerned. “Yeah,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R- Ky.) when asked if the Obama administration and Salazar would try to restore the ban on offshore oil drilling.
“I think there is no question that the elimination of the offshore oil drilling ban was one of the biggest accomplishments of the not so accomplished 110th Congress,” said McConnell. “It would be a step in the wrong direction to restore the ban. Obviously, I and my colleagues are going to oppose that and hope that does not happen.”
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who helped lead the fight against renewing the ban in the House, told CNSNews.com that though he does not know if Salazar will push to restore the ban, he is concerned that the incoming administration, along with increased Democratic majorities in Congress, will try to bring the ban back.
“I am concerned that the incoming administration and the Democratic leadership will restore all or part of the moratorium on offshore drilling,” Pence told CNSNews.com. “The American people rose up last year during a crisis in gas prices and said that the American people want more access to American oil.”
Rep. Barney Frank said that though he is focusing on financial issues right now, he hopes the administration will try to restore a “general ban.”
“Obviously many of us want to have a general ban,” said Frank.