Congressman Parker Griffith, along with 48 of his colleagues, contacted the Secretary of the Department of Interior, Ken Salazar, today concerning reports that Minerals Management Service (MMS) Director Liz Birnbaum deliberately withheld information from the secretary regarding public comments received on the five-year plan for new offshore oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).
Griffith gained the support of more than 48 Members of Congress in alerting Secretary Salazar to the uncovered reports.
"It was outrageous that members of Secretary Salazar's staff would intentionally delay the release of public input from hundreds of thousands of concerned Americans," said Griffith. "The issue of responsible offshore energy production should not be politicized and delayed through bureaucratic fiat simply because DOI employees do not like the result of the comments."
According to emails recently uncovered under the Freedom of Information Act, Director Birnbaum directly contacted a number of Department of Interior (DOI) employees explaining her rationale to withhold important information on the proposed OCS Oil & Gas Leasing Program for 2010 to 2015. The DOI received approximately 530,000 comments, and according to Ms. Birnbaum's email, with the overwhelming majority in support of off-shore drilling.
"Producing plentiful oil and gas resources is an important step in reducing our dependence on foreign oil sources. We must continue to invest in clean energy technologies and we must create a comprehensive energy plan that includes the responsible production of fossil fuels on the Outer Continental Shelf. To take our country to energy independence, it is imperative that we mobilize all working parts. We will fail only when information is deliberately not relayed to the Secretary of DOI, the department directly responsible for promoting energy solutions."
"One hundred and forty-eight days and still no tabulation," said Vince Haley, VP of Policy at American Solutions who filed the FOIA inquiry. "Meanwhile, the American economy isn't improving and Americans continue to be out of work. Politics is keeping over 800,000 jobs a year from being created in 24 states. Secretary Salazar has used every excuse available, including blaming the weather, to explain why his department has not completed the plan. Secretary Salazar should finalize the plan or the President should appoint people who will do the job of creating jobs."
Along with President Obama, Secretary Salazar has regularly expressed the need for a comprehensive energy plan that includes the responsible production of fossil fuels on the Outer Continental Shelf. Secretary Salazar stated in April of last year that he desired to maximize public opportunity to "give us guidance on what it is that they want to do" because "these are not decisions that are going to be made behind closed doors." Griffith believes the actions of Secretary Salazar's staff, combined with his abrupt decision to ensure virtually no new lease sales will occur during President Obama's term in office, run in obvious conflict to his previous statements.
"I, and 48 of my House colleagues, today contacted Secretary Salazar because of mounting concerns that the policies and practices displayed by his employees, along with his recent decision to delay the release of a new leasing plan by three years until 2012, are not matching the rhetoric of this Administration. In addition, Secretary Salazar's actions are running contrary to the will of the American people who are depending on their government for energy solutions," said Griffith.
Griffith and members of the House of Representatives requested a detailed explanation of why the Secretary changed his position to proceed with an OCS Leasing Program, since it is well-supported by the American people. In addition, they requested an explanation for why Secretary Salazar would continue to employee people who found ways to reject comments from the American public.
Griffith is a member of the the powerful U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.