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Salazar: All energy production OK on public land with careful planning

BOULDER – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Thursday outlined an expanded “all of the above” strategy for balancing conservation of public lands with increased domestic energy production.

“We see energy independence within our grasp,” Salazar said in a speech to about 180 participants in a symposium at the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado. The audience ranged from senior federal land managers to anti-coal activists to members of the CU student government.

“The national security of the United States should never be compromised by the fact that we have to import oil from foreign places where dictators reign,” Salazar said.

Salazar was in Colorado for a campaign appearance with President Barack Obama in Golden, and then planned to swing through the state for an America’s Great Outdoors stakeholder meeting on the Western Slope and to announce the creation of a national wildlife refuge on the east side of the San Luis Valley.

The refuge, to be officially announced Friday in Denver, is anchored in a conservation easement that gives tax breaks to billionaire hedge fund manager Louis Bacon in exchange for the preservation of 170,000 acres of ranchland, more than double the 80,000-acre arrangement with Bacon announced earlier this year.

But in Boulder, Salazar’s focus was on energy.

The strategy he discussed in the speech – and elaborated on in interviews later – embraces oil and gas drilling, solar power, geo-thermal power and wind-power systems.

New financial incentives will be offered to energy producers in each area to encourage increased production on public lands.

Salazar said the incentives offered to producers on the “new energy frontier” need to be available to producers for a longer period of time.”

The government will seek renewal of production tax credits for wind energy, which recently were cut.

“That industry needs to continue to build from where it is today,” he said. “We’re going to need tax credits for that to happen.”

Salazar said the incentives could boost solar energy production to 10,000 megawatts from 7,500 by the end of the year.

Obama administration officials also are working to improve mapping of sensitive wetlands and other areas, and ideal locations for energy production – and to have more of this planning done more in advance – to ensure “a permitting effort that is even more efficient than it has been in the past,” he said.

“We are going to see a rapidity,” particularly in the issuance of permits for solar energy, he said.

The strategy includes continued investment in research and development for development of all forms of energy, targeting facilities such as the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden.

As for oil and gas production on public lands, Salazar said overall production has increased 13 percent over the past four years, reducing oil imports to 45 percent of what the nation consumes, and will continue to increase.

“Oil and gas is very much a part of our program,” Salazar said.