Interview with Secretary Salazar

Interview with Secretary Salazar

By John King, USA - March 31, 2010

KING: Here to go "One-on-One", the president's point man in this new offshore drilling proposal, the Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar -- welcome.


KING: I want to get to the specifics, but first -- and the politics, which are pretty interesting. But, first, for a family out there right now sitting around the kitchen table who has seen the price of gas go up a little bit, maybe they're just coming out of the winter and the home heating oil season and they understand what energy can do to the family budget, what does this mean to them? And is the answer in the short term, almost nothing, because it takes a while to implement this, if you get Congress to go along.

SALAZAR: That's correct. The energy prices -- the price at the pump really is a matter of the world markets, and so this will not -- this decision will not have an impact in terms of the price at the pump.

KING: But yet you think this is critical, why?

SALAZAR: Critical, as the president said, for the energy security of the nation, and as part of the comprehensive energy plan, we need to move forward to have a real energy-independent America, and that has failed presidents for 40 years. It's not going to fail with him.

KING: I think we have a map we can show of the administration's plan. It would be over your right shoulder, sir. As we do so, some of the areas that are in, some of the areas that are out in this proposal. The politics of this are quite fascinating. As you see the plan, you've taken the Pacific Coast is out of play. You say there's low resources, it's not worth the controversy or the effort out there.

Along the Atlantic Ocean, a number of lawmakers, mostly Democrats the politics of (INAUDIBLE) coming out today saying you know kill, baby, kill, Frank Lautenberg, the senator from New Jersey said -- he says you're going to destroy jobs in coastal communities and perhaps destroy Marine life as well. Ben Cardin, a Democratic senator from Maryland, both former colleagues of yours in the United States Senate say they worry about spills in the Chesapeake Bay. Address the environmental concerns that this is too risky for such pristine areas of our country. SALAZAR: We're going to protect the environment and you know my great friends Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez and others, the reality of it is we will move forward and do what we call a look and see on the Atlantic. That means (INAUDIBLE) it is out there, it still has to go through all the environmental analysis, but at the end of the day, this administration stands ready and strong with the foot in conservation, and we're not going to do anything that's going to degrade the environment or the coastlines.

KING: The flip side of the argument has come from some Republicans who say this is too timid, that you should not have taken Bristol Bay out of play up in Alaska, for example. You should not have taken out of play the Pacific Coast. Why those decisions?

SALAZAR: Well, those decisions are based on the fact that there are some natural ecological wildlife values up there that are just absolutely the greatest. Bristol Bay provides about 40 percent of the fish for the United States. It is a place where presidents from the past, Republicans and Democrats, wanted to protect that place. The same thing is true with the Pacific, and the National Wildlife Refuges of the Marine areas there are absolutely at the very top of the line.

So, we're going to protect those environments because they are very special places. On the other hand, if you summed this up, John, I would say this, you know, in the Gulf of Mexico we say let's go for it, and we're going to do it surgically to protect the Florida coast. In the Atlantic, it's a look-and-see. In the Pacific and in some places in Alaska like Bristol Bay, they're too special to drill, so we're going to conserve, and so this is a balanced plan. It represents a new direction for us and this administration based on what had happened in the past; we're not just thoughtlessly going and rushing to lease everywhere in America.

KING: The sharpest criticism of the Democratic administration has come from Democratic senators. I want to take you back in time a bit. There was a moment back in 2008 when George W. Bush wanted to lift the moratorium, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, went to the floor and he was trying to get unanimous consent in the Senate to implement this proposal, and a then Senator Ken Salazar came to the floor and said, oh, no, you don't. Let's listen.


SALAZAR: Reserving the right to object for the same reasons that we stated earlier, this, again, is creating a phantom solution to the reality of the energy prices and the energy challenge that we face as a nation, and, therefore, I object.


KING: Phantom solution, then?

SALAZAR: Well, the reality is that we do not have a panacea here with respect to oil and gas drilling in the offshore or the onshore. We cannot drill our way to energy independence. So, President Obama recognizes that now, he's always recognized that. What we need to have is a comprehensive energy program and that includes our most massive investment ever in the history of the country in renewable energy and solar and geothermal, biofuels and also in technologies. It's a very great thing that the administration is doing. We will be saving billions of barrels of oil, simply through the transportation efficiencies that will be implemented tomorrow. So, it's part of a comprehensive plan to get us out of the energy dependency that we have been in for generations.

KING: Again, the politics are fascinating. Some Republicans said you know this isn't everything I would like, but parts of it are OK and for a Democrat they say it's a step in the right direction, but some of them also say they view this as a trap, that the president has agreed to help finance nuclear power plants. That helps him in some areas and that's something, again, that a Democratic president is getting a little bit of criticism for from the environmental community.

Now he comes out with something like this. What the Republicans say is that is bald politics, you are looking for two votes here, four votes there, maybe a couple of more over here so that you can sell this as part of a big comprehensive climate change policy that they believe inevitably will lead to higher taxes, especially higher carbon taxes, for American businesses and American families. Do they have a point?

SALAZAR: John, they are simply wrong. The fact of the matter is, new plans that will take us seven years forward with respect to the outer continental shelf are based on what is the best science for the --

KING: What about -- what about this is a piece of the bigger climate change debate?

SALAZAR: Well, on the energy and climate change legislation that is being negotiated and people are talking about it, there is a bipartisan effort. In fact, a tri-partisan because you have Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Joe Lieberman and Senator John Kerry who are trying to put those pieces together and so we are very --

KING: Lindsey Graham is pretty lonely on the Republican side right now.

SALAZAR: But Lindsey Graham has stood out and said that one of the things that we need to do is we need to create jobs here in America. We need to move towards energy independence --

KING: You know the Senate. Can you do it in a midterm election year? John McCain used to be with Senator Lindsey Graham at least on the big picture of it. The specifics people get split on the specifics -- excuse me -- but there are more Republicans if you went back to when Bush was president in a midterm election year, where a lot of them, including Senator McCain, are worrying about primary challenges, do you really think you can get that done this year?

SALAZAR: Yes, I think it's possible. It's not that it's going to be easy, but then nothing is easy. No one thought that some of the achievements that we've had in the last year that we would be able to achieve. My own view is that this is an issue that transcends party lines. You know, Democrats and Republicans alike believe strongly in national security. They believe in jobs here in America. And this is a place where the president is leading to try to bring people together in this country. This is an American issue about to unite many people behind this initiative.

KING: Let me ask you more a generational question. Let's throw the politics out for a minute. We live in this remarkable time. Technology is changing overnight. We went out on that oil rig to see the new technology they were using. I was in Hawaii recently seeing ocean water being used, the solar, the wind and all these other things. But your concession that you need to do more of this, your belief you need to do more of this is proof that we are dependent on oil and gas for the foreseeable future. When is that day -- when is that day when we throw the switch, turn off the pump and we have a different energy paradigm?

SALAZAR: You know, John, it's going to happen gradually over time. We're not going to wave a magic wand and make it happen within a year or two years but what we can do --

KING: Is it 10 or 20 though or do we know?

SALAZAR: I would say 10 or 20. But we need to move forward with a kind of framework that really embraces the alternative energies in a major way and no one has done that until this president and our investments in renewable energy and new technologies, the kinds of announcements that he made today in terms of hybrid vehicles for the federal government, there's a whole bunch of things that are going on that finally are moving us in the direction to be an energy independent country.

KING: It's both fascinating and a bit contentious as you well know, Mr. Secretary, we appreciate your coming in and helping us understand it. We'll keep in touch in the months ahead.

SALAZAR: Thank you, John. And best of luck in the show.

KING: Oh thank you very much. We appreciate that.

And we take "The Pulse" of America when we some back. When it comes to new health care reform law, one Republican has a less drastic approach than total repeal. Might it catch on? Stay right there.

KING: Thank you.

SALAZAR: Thank you very much.


John King, USA

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