A Renewables Tilt To Obama’s ‘All Of The Above’

Is the Obama administration’s tilt toward renewables over fossil fuels becoming more pronounced in the president’s second term? There’s still a lot of rhetoric from the administration about “all of the above,” but while renewable energy projects on federal lands receive enthusiastic endorsement, the gas and oil crowd doesn’t seem to be having its way all the time.

Case in point: the Bureau of Land Management is scheduled to hold a quarterly oil and gas lease sale in Utah today, offering 35 parcels comprising 44,021 acres. But it’s what’s not up for offer that’s making news: The BLM said last week that it would defer nearly 100,000 acres in southern Utah’s San Rafael Swell from the sale. That move is drawing praise from conservationists and scorn from conservatives.

san rafael swell

The terrain in question (image via NRDC/Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance)

The BLM cited “concerns including cultural resources, sensitive species, and potential impacts to the Old Spanish Trail,” in announcing the move.

The National Resources Defense Council’s Bobby McEnaney, in a blog post, explained what was at risk:

The proposal to drill was particularly concerning given the resource in question – a two-million acre, 75-mile long natural feature that rises up from the south-central Utah landscape. Given its relative proximity to Salt Lake Valley, the area is beloved by many for its unique geological features and the abundant recreational opportunities it affords. In addition, the area is also home to scores of remarkable American Indian rock art sites and the Old Spanish Trail.

The local Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance had been leading a campaign against drilling the San Rafael Swell. “BLM’s decision means that the San Rafael Swell will be spared – for now – the presence of drill rigs, sprawling pipelines, road scars, gas flares, air pollution and the thump, thump, thumping of pumpers,” the group wrote on its website. “BLM made the right decision, and every citizen who wrote, spoke, rallied, or raised a sign encouraging them to do so deserves our thanks!”

Utah Republicans weren’t so pleased.

“It’s silly of the BLM to think that it can pass this arbitrary decision off as anything other than what it really is, which is an appeasement of special interest groups that are opposed to all resource development in this area,” Rep. Rob Bishop said in a statement that captured the tenor of the response of fellow Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.