In another example of the new administration’s determination to change the course of American energy production, and to repeal the previous administration’s midnight rulings, Ken Salazar, the new Interior Secretary, declared yesterday (Tuesday) that he will extend the public comment period on a 5-year proposal to expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling by 180 days.

This 5-year plan – which was proposed on January 16, the last business day of the Bush administration – originally contained only a 60-days comment period, and made no reference to alternative offshore energy resources. While a 2005 act required the Department of Interior to issue, within nine months, guidance to the development of offshore energy, it took the Bush administration three years to prepare a proposed rule for development of offshore energy resources. “They left office without putting any final regulations in place because it was not their priority, notwithstanding the requirement of the law. For them, it was oil and gas or nothing” said Salazar.

Now Salazar has directed the Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to assemble a report with

in 45 days detailing both oil and gas resources offshore and the potential for renewable energy resources, including wind, wave and tidal energy, and said he issue a final rulemaking for offshore renewables within the next few months (at the moment there are no permits for any offshore renewable facilities in the US).

While environmental groups applauded this decision, the American petroleum industry was naturally less enthusiastic. Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute said the extension of the comment period was unnecessary and noted that the department had already received a record amount of comments. According to Gerard most of these comments were positive, proving in my opinion that this extension is in fact necessary for a better informed debate.

This, along with Congress support for a national renewable electricity standard, should help the US increase its reliance on sustainable energy resources.

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