Salazar: Without Bush administration, oil industry no longer 'kings of world'

“The difference is that under the prior administration, the oil and gas industry were essentially the kings of the world. Whatever they wanted to happen essentially happened. This department was essentially a handmaiden of the oil and gas industry,” he said on a conference call with reporters.

“We have brought that to an end."

Under the new procedures announced by Salazar, Interior staff will conduct more detailed reviews of whether development would be harmful to lands and wildlife, including more on-the-ground visits.

The policies also pare back waivers from environmental analysis for some oil and gas activities that were authorized under a major 2005 energy law, and emphasize leasing in already-developed regions rather than new areas. The new policies will affect leasing and development decisions in energy-rich states where the federal government is a major landowner, including Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Industry groups said the shift would hurt the economy and make it more difficult to lessen U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources.

“In what has become increasingly familiar double-talk from this administration, Interior Secretary Salazar today again spoke of the importance of domestic oil and natural gas, while making it more difficult to produce American oil and gas, put more Americans back to work and help restore our nation’s economy,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s biggest trade group.

“Under the guise of offering certainty for investors, Interior Secretary Salazar has taken steps to further delay and limit American energy resources for all Americans,” he added.

An alphabet soup of other industry groups — the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, the Consumer Energy Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association of America — issued similar statements alleging the plans would stymie development.

Initial reaction from Capitol Hill was divided.

“I applaud Secretary Salazar for taking some thoughtful and strategic actions that will both boost energy production on public lands and maintain the integrity of these lands for all of the other multiple uses that are so important to all Americans, including those of us in New Mexico and the West,” said Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

But Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee’s top Republican, criticized the new policies.

“Interior Secretary Salazar claims the changes announced today will provide certainty, but the only certainty they provide is that more production will be driven overseas,” said Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon.

Salazar said he was hopeful that the changes would expand environmental protection while reducing the number of parcels that are subject to administrative and legal challenges, which have ballooned over the last decade.

Salazar was among the centrists in the Democratic caucus when he was a Colorado senator, but his tenure as Interior secretary has been marked by sharp exchanges with industry trade groups.