When President Obama picked former Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar as his Interior Secretary last year, the Coloradan donned a 10-gallon hat and dubbed himself "the new sheriff in town." But Cowboy Ken is the one who needs to be run out on a rail. In his continued quest to shut down offshore drilling, Salazar has run roughshod over scientific integrity, transparency and the Gulf Coast economy.
Two federal courts have batted down the White House-approved, Salazar-directed drilling moratorium. Outraged scientists -- appointed by the Obama administration, mind you -- blasted Salazar for doctoring their work and contradicting their conclusions to bolster his manufactured case for the sweeping six-month ban. Undaunted, Salazar conjured up a "revised" moratorium rubber-stamped by oil spill czar Michael Bromwich, who sheepishly admitted that the new ban was "roughly congruent with the original moratorium."
The sham changes would permit some drilling rigs to restart operations -- but only under onerous fantasyland testing conditions that industry leaders say would be virtually impossible to meet. In short, Salazar's "new" moratorium is a lot like Salazar himself: all hat, no cattle.
The Interior Secretary then strode into the first hearing of the presidential oil spill commission this week to tell the panelists that he wanted their work to "inform" his book-cooked deepwater drilling ban. It was, essentially, Salazar guiding the dog-and-pony-show participants to bark and neigh on command. The panelists were "stunned" by Salazar's explicit expectation of policy support, according to hearing observers, because weighing in on the moratorium had not been a part of their original mandate.
None of the panelists, conveniently enough, has actual technical expertise in deepwater drilling. So on what, exactly, can they "inform" Salazar? No doubt Salazar and his superiors at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have soaked up the online anti-drilling rants of prominent oil spill panelist Frances Beinecke. She's a leading official at the rabidly anti-corporate Natural Resources Defense Council, where she publicly called for offshore drilling bans five times over the past two months before snagging a seat on Obama's "expert" panel. NRDC was one of the leading environmental lobbying voices pushing for the commission in the first place. The eco-tail is wagging Team Obama's dog.
The good news is that not all the panelists are rolling over. Co-chairs William Reilly and Bob Graham absorbed an earful from local residents, small business owners and public officials from the Gulf region this week.