Refreshing ethics and freeze on Utah land leases

Secretary Salazar Outlines High Ethical Standards for Interior Department in Memo to All Employees

A new ethical Secretary of the Interior of US –  what a refreshing concept. Ken Salazar the 50th Secretary of the Interior today sent a memo to all Department of the Interior employees outlining the ethical responsibilities for all employees based on President Obama’s Executive Order of Jan. 21 on ethical standards for political appointees. He plans to lead with openness in decision making, high ethical standards, and respect for scientific integrity.

No one will: 1)  accept gifts from a registered lobbyist or lobbying organization; 2) will comply with enhanced revolving door conflict of interest bans, both during and upon leaving government service; and 3) will make hiring or other employment decisions based on the candidate’s qualifications, competence, and experience.

The American people whom we all serve have a right to expect that all employees of the Department place loyalty to the Constitution, public laws, and applicable ethical policies and principles above private gain. We fulfill this trust by adhering to our own standards of personal and professional integrity as well as specific ethical regulations, and by being fully accountable for our conduct.

But mere compliance with minimum ethics requirements is not enough to fully meet our obligations to uphold the deep and abiding trust that the public places in all civil servants. It is essential that we fully honor President Obama’s commitment to the highest standards of conduct and decision making. To that end, before any changes to Government-wide rules are implemented, I have met with and directed the Designated Agency Ethics Official to review our Departmental specific regulations and recommend areas where we can improve on our own ethical policies and guidance.

All of us face ethical choices every day in the conduct of our business. I urge you to seek the assistance of your bureau or office ethics official who, along with the Department Ethics Office, are ready to assist you in providing ethics guidance to help you avoid even the appearance of impropriety in carrying out your work. Only authorized ethics officials may interpret ethics rules and statutes, and only they can provide authoritative and protective advice for your questions.

It is important that you seek ethics advice early, before taking action, and that you provide a complete and honest description of all of the relevant facts.

BASED IN ETHICS A FREEZE ON OIL AND GAS LEASES IN UTAH

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that the Bureau of Land Management would withdraw leases that were offered on 77 parcels of U.S. public land near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon.  The leases on these 77 parcels are the subject of litigation in U.S. District Court.

“In its last weeks in office, the Bush Administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our nation’s most treasured landscapes in Utah,” said Secretary Salazar.  “We need to responsibly develop our oil and gas supplies to help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we must do so in a thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and cultural resources in places like Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon, for future generations.

“I have directed Bureau of Land Management not to accept the bids on 77 parcels from the December 19 lease sale and which are in close proximity to these national parks, monuments, and sensitive landscapes.  We will take a fresh look at these 77 parcels and at the adequacy of the environmental review and analysis that led to their being offered for oil and gas development.  I am also concerned that there was inadequate consultation with other agencies, including the National Park Service.”

The 77 parcels, which are the subject of a Temporary Restraining Order, were part of a
Dec. 19, 2008 lease sale offering 130 parcels in three areas in northeastern Utah covered by the Bureau of Land Management’s Vernal, Moab and Price land use plans.  The 77 parcels, which total about 130,225 acres, are all in the vicinity of two National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument. Of the 130 parcels offered, bids were received on 116 parcels, totaling 148,598 acres.

Under the BLM lease sale process, companies bid on parcels in a public auction and the BLM then reviews and evaluates the bids to decide whether to accept them or not.  A government contract is not completed until the BLM formally accepts the bids, which it has not done for these 77 parcels.

Several groups filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on Dec. 22, challenging the previous administration’s decision to offer 77 of the 130 parcels and arguing that the lease sale process did not fully comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act.  Some groups also filed administrative protests, which are currently pending before the BLM state office.

On Jan. 17, 2009, the U.S. District Court granted a motion for a Temporary Restraining Order on the 77 parcels. The U.S. Department of Justice response to the motion for preliminary injunction is due on Feb. 6, 2009.

U.S.  Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240

Secretary Salazar Restores Balance in Controversial Last-Minute Oil and Gas Lease Sale near Utah National Parks WASHINGTON, D.C.

http://www.doi.gov/news/09_News_Releases/020409b.html

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