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Interior Secretary Assures Alaska on Drilling Permits

The President announced the first fuel economy standard for heavy duty trucks today, which the Administration claims will reduce oil consumption by 530 million barrels and greenhouse gas emissions by 270 million metric tons. It will also save businesses which use and operate commercial vehicles $50 billion in fuel costs. The standards would kick in with 2014 model vehicles.

Since there’s little else happening in the clean energy space, these fuel economy deals are welcome as at least something moving the needle on emission reductions. But at the same time as the White House is working to make cars more fuel efficient so less gasoline is needed to power them, they reportedly want to drill in Alaska and extract more of that oil from domestic sources.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar came to Anchorage on Monday and said the Obama administration supports more oil drilling in Alaska, potentially including offshore Arctic development.

Salazar joined Alaska Sen. Mark Begich and Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed for a meeting with Alaska business people and said the president’s feeling toward Arctic offshore drilling is “Let’s take a look at what’s up there and see what it is we can develop.”

But any Arctic oil development must be done carefully, he said. Salazar said the Arctic lacks needed infrastructure for responding to potential offshore oil spills and cited painful lessons from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

Salazar stressed that Obama does not support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, certainly the plans are being made for more development in Alaska.

Twenty-plus years after the Exxon Valdez spill, you can still find oil washing up on Alaska’s shores. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement just gave Shell a permit to drill north of ANWR, in Camden Bay. Shell also wants to drill in the Chukchi sea, and several companies seek drilling permits for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. These are areas where Interior clearly seems willing to allow exploration.

Maybe the thought is that the combination of more fuel-efficient cars and continued exploration domestically will wean us off foreign oil. I certainly hope that isn’t the case. There’s barely a thimble full of oil sitting around in American deposits; the pollution consequences outweigh the benefits. The more likely outcome is that the tar sands pipeline will become more and more crucial to US oil needs, and that has pollution consequences all of its own.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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