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Wash. Post: Grijalva Passed Over for Interior Sec. Because of Tough Stance on Offshore Drilling

Tucson, Ariz. – According to a recent featured story in the Washington Post, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva was passed over for Secretary of the Interior during the Obama transition because of his unwillingness to approve offshore drilling projects without first strengthening Bush-era environmental standards. The story, which ran Oct. 13, indicates that current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was more in line with the president’s urge toward a “balanced” energy portfolio that included more offshore drilling.

The story outlines the behind-the-scenes conversations that led to Salazar’s eventual pick over Grijalva, who was viewed as tougher on the need for oversight and regulation to prevent potential spills.

Members of Obama’s transition team for the Interior Department, who were handling the preliminary talks with Grijalva and others, spoke enthusiastically about Obama's “balanced” energy approach, which embraced new drilling as a transition to a day when “clean” energy could replace fossil fuels.

A dissenting Grijalva told the transition team that it was premature to talk about an expansion of drilling. His first priority, he said, would be correcting the dangerous imbalance he saw between industry and federal regulators. Before he could endorse expansion, Grijalva suggested, Interior would need to regain the upper hand.

As the story records, Salazar and other White House officials did not give priority to oil industry safety concerns as they decided where to open drilling projects:

The historical record was reliably predictive, Salazar concluded. “The essence of the information I was given was that there were 40,000-plus oil and gas wells drilled in the Gulf of Mexico, and the record is the empirical basis on which you can conclude that it is safe,” he said in the interview.

As Salazar prepared his plan for Obama, his focus remained on where to allow exploration. The industry's safety record was not a major concern.

Grijalva has been a central figure in oil industry oversight since before the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, requesting information on oil rig documentation, administration policy and industry contingency planning in a series of letters and hearings throughout the year. He has remained a steadfast proponent of increasing the enforcement budget for the recently formed Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the successor agency to the defunct Minerals Management Service.

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