America's Energy Future - Q&A Recorded Live with Secretary Salazar
February 3, 2012
TranscriptTim Fullerton: Good afternoon everybody, my name is Tim Fullerton, I'm the
Director of New Media here at the Department of the Interior and I
want to thank you for joining us this afternoon for this very
important chat related to energy issues. We are very fortunate to
have Secretary Salazar with us this afternoon. He'll be answering
your questions for the next 30 to 40 minutes.
If you haven't already submitted one you can do so by entering it
in the chat window below this. We'll be able to answer them from
there. We've already got a lot of great questions. Whether it's
renewables or whether it's offshore energy production, we're here
to answer them. Before we get to the questions I just want to give
the Secretary a few moments to give some opening remarks. Mr.
Ken Salazar: Thank you very much, Tim. President Obama has made energy one of
the highest priorities of his administration from day one. From the
very beginning we move forward with the new energy frontier, trying
to stand up renewable energy. We've had great success in creating
what are now the largest solar energy facilities in the world,
geothermal and wind power facilities, and we're continuing in that
direction as well.
His goal in the State of the Union is that we have three million
households that are powered by renewable energy. We're going to get
that done, we're already well on our way to getting that done in
this year. In addition to that he believes in an energy program
that includes efficiency, so we're moving forward with major
efficiency measures on energy, as well as moving forward with oil
and gas production domestically.
Natural gas is a key component of our energy feature, the president
recognizes that, but it's very important that we also develop our
energy resources in a safe and environmentally protective way. It's
a great day and a great time in America because energy is the
cornerstone of our economy, it's the cornerstone of our national
security, and also our environmental security. We're proud of the
work that we've done, and we recognize we have a lot more to go.
Tim: Great. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. The first question came in through
email and it's from David in California, and he wants to know what
is the Bureau of Land Management doing to ensure that solar power
plants aren't placed on public lands in areas that will affect
wildlife and are used by the public for recreation?
Ken: David and Tim, the most important thing that we can do is to make
sure that we are being smart from the start. From the very
beginning, our time here under President Obama here at Interior, we
started the "smart from the start" concept in terms of how we do
our planning for renewable energy development.
That means what we are doing is we are looking at those places, for
example on solar, where we know that in the states of Arizona,
California, Nevada and New Mexico, and a little bit in Colorado,
that there are the best places for the siting of solar facilities.
It doesn't mean because you have good sun that that's where you
ought to site these facilities, because we want to make sure that
we're not impeding or impinging on any the values for national
parks or for ecological values or wildlife habitats.
What we've done is we've gone through a program where we've
identified the best areas for siting solar energy facilities across
the country and we're in the process of completing them. We want to
make sure that we are protecting the conservation values which we
stand up for in this department every day, and that as we move
forward with renewable energy that we are protecting wildlife and
wildlife habitat and the scenic values of our national parks.
Tim: Great. We're going to take a question related to fracking right
now. There's a lot of interest in this, and this came in from the
chat. Most people want to know what the Department is doing around
fracking to ensure that it's a safe way to extract natural gas.
Ken: We have been working on this for some time, and the president in
the State of the Union mentioned what we want to do in natural gas.
We believe natural gas is a significant part of our energy
portfolio for the future, but as we have now developed a 100-year
supply of natural gas in the continental United States, we need to
make sure that that natural gas is being developed in a way that's
not going to destroy our environment and destroy other values that
we care so much about.
In the history of fracking, we don't know of instances where
fracking has contaminated the water, but we do know that there are
ways in which fracking could create problems. What we want to do is
make sure that there is disclosure, because it's important that
people understand what is being injected into the underground.
There's no reason for oil and gas companies to keep that secret, so
the president in the State of the Union called for disclosure of
those materials. There are other measures that we'll take to make
sure that as natural gas is proceeding in the 700 million acres
that we here govern at the Department of the Interior, that it's
done in a safe and responsible way and people can make sure they
can live free of fear with respect of what the consequences of
fracking might be.
Tim: Thank you Mr. Secretary. The next question is going to be related
to a jobs question. We heard some positive numbers today but we
know that there's more needs to be done, so this question is, given
the circumstances of the unemployment in this country, many are
currently unemployed. What are some of the things we're doing to
usher in a green energy revolution and also get people back to
work? This question is from Rick in Connecticut.
Ken: Rick, I appreciate the question. We are doing everything within the
executive power at the president's direction to make sure we are
creating as many jobs as we possibly can. We find the job numbers
of this morning to be encouraging, but we also know we have a lot
more work to do. The Congress could help us out, and the president
has asked Congress to help out, but we also aren't waiting.
We are moving forward with our own authorities to make sure that we
are doing everything we can to create jobs in the renewable energy
sector, and in fact our output of renewable energy has doubled just
since the time we took office. The number of renewable energy
projects we're working on right now across the country is in the
Just yesterday we made an announcement on Atlantic wind, because we
believe that the 10 states along the Atlantic can develop greatly
from developing an Atlantic wind energy program, we've been working
on that for several years and are making significant progress. Jobs
and energy, which powers our economy, really are integrally tied
together, so it's been a high priority for President Obama and his
Tim: Great. The next question is going to come from Christopher in
Colorado and this is related to offshore oil exploration: "I think
I speak for a lot of Americans when I express concern over whether
or not companies who plan to extract natural resources have the
capabilities to prevent future disasters." His question is, have we
developed plans in case something like an oil spill were to happen
Ken: Christopher, thank you for asking the question, and thank you also
for persevering through the major storm you're getting there in
Colorado. I was just on the phone with my family and I know how
much snow has come down in the Denver area, so drive safe and be
You ask a very good question. How can we make sure that we can
prevent another oil spill from happening like the one we saw with
BP and the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010? We can do
that by making sure that the largest, most significant overhaul in
how we regulate oil and gas in the oceans of America are ones that
are safeguarding our environment, and I believe that we are there.
We have spent a lot of time leading this largest overhaul in
American history, to make sure that we have safe oil and gas
We have inspectors, and we also have required industry to do a
number of things including third-party certifications, developing
the capability to respond and quickly shut off any kind of accident
that might occur. We are in a much better position than we ever
were. Having said that, Christopher, it's also important to know
that it's never going to be risk-free.
Nothing that we do in terms of oil and gas production is 100
percent risk-free. Our responsibility in government on behalf of
the American people is to make sure that as we produce oil and gas
from our oceans in America, that we're doing it in the safest way
As we have developed our programs, which now are seen as the
standard for the world, we're also making sure that other places
around the world recognize the improvements that have been made,
because the oil and gas industry is a global industry. What happens
in Brazil and Nigeria and Russia, all of those places are
developing oil and gas out in their oceans. We are pushing hard to
make sure that we have international protocols in place so we can
safeguard the oceans of the world.
Tim: Great. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. For those who are just joining us
I want to thank you all again for submitting your questions on
energy and the work we are doing here at the Department to help
promote more U.S. domestic energy supply. We're getting a lot of
great questions in right now, and we want to remind everybody that
if you joined us late, you'll be able to watch the full chat early
next week at doi.gov, we'll make sure it's up there for you.
With that being said we're going to move on to the next question,
and it's a question from Emily on here, and she's asking about the
issue of water scarcity out West, and its relation to energy
development and what are the types of things we're doing to help
fix that problem?
Ken: Emily, that's a very important question. You being from the west,
you understand that water is, in fact, the lifeblood of our
communities. Without water, frankly, the west wouldn't have the
kind of livelihood that it currently has. We have concerns. We
know, for example, in the Colorado River basin that we are going to
see a significant decline in the amount of water in the Colorado
River basin because of climate change. The same thing is true on
the Rio Grande River. It is an issue of huge concern to us.
What we're doing in response to that reality are several things.
First, we believe water conservation is a very significant part of
what we need to do. We've developed a program called Water Smart.
We are saving hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water just
through the implementation of efficiency programs, by water users
throughout the western parts of the United States. We're trying to
make sure that what we are learning is something that is being
learned now throughout the United States.
Secondly, we also are working with municipalities, with
agricultural water users, and others, to make sure that we are
prepared for a decline in the amount of water that will be
available within those basins. The management and adaptation as we
deal with the realities of climate change is something that we are
very involved in with water users throughout those basins,
throughout basins throughout the United States.
Tim: Thank you, sir. The next question is from Allan in California. He
wants to know, as the department looks at new domestic energy
production opportunities from public lands and waters, are there
ways to dedicate an appropriate share of these resulting revenues
to protect our national parks, refuges, and other threatened
Ken: Allan, it's a good question and it's something which we have pushed
very hard to try to accomplish. The line of water conservation fund
was created back in 1964 and 65. Essentially what it says in the
law is, that money that's taken from the outer continental shelf
from oil and gas production, that a part of that should go over
into funding for conservation programs for the country.
Unfortunately, what's happened is it's been a broken promise to the
American people, because only about half of the amount that should
have conservation, has gone into conservation. Consequently, today
if you look on the books at the treasury department, there's about
a $17 billion debt that is owed to the conservation interest.
I always say, if you're a hunter, you've been cheated, if you are a
biker, a rafter, an angler, any kind of a conservationist. The
American people have been cheated because that money has not found
its way to conservation. My hope is that we will be able to work
with the congress to get some dedicated revenues that come into
line of water conservation so it's not a fight that happens every
Last year, for example, in this department we generated, on behalf
of the American taxpayers, over $12 billion. That's the money that
was paid in royalties and rentals to the United States which we
collected here at the department. But it goes into this dark hole,
and it never ends up helping in terms of the conservation agenda.
The president has been very strong in pushing for a 20 percent re-
conservation agenda, in what we call the America's Great Outdoors
program. We're doing great things in the crown of the continent,
the Everglades, the Dakotas, all over the country. But it's going
to take some money to be able to move forward with many of these
I hope that we're able to develop a program with Congress in the
year ahead that will dedicate more of these revenues into
Tim: And it's great that you mention the America's Great Outdoors
Initiative, and if people would like more information on that, they
can go to americasgreatoutdoors.gov for more information on that
We're going to take another question from the chat here. This next
question is what are we doing to overhaul our transmission grid so
that we can move this renewable energy across the US?
Ken: We have a team of people that includes the Department of Interior,
the Department of Energy, FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission and the Department of Agriculture. What we have done is
we have looked at places where we can build a transmission so we
can take renewable energy from the places where it's going being
produced to places where it's going to be consumed.
It doesn't do us much good to have great wind energy resources in
Wyoming or in the Dakotas, and not be able to have transmission to
get it to places where it's going to be consumed. A number of
transmission lines we are working on, the president has prioritized
seven of those transmission lines.
We're moving forward as aggressively as we can to get them
permitted. They will create thousands of jobs here in America, and
it will make sure that we don't leave our renewable energy
potential stranded in places where it can't be used.
Tim: Great, thank you, Mr. Secretary. We're going to take another
question online here. The question is from Kelsey. It's what steps
are being taken to ensure that oil and gas development on public
lands is done in an environmentally sound way?
Ken: Kelsey, the first thing that we're doing is making sure that oil
and gas production is taking place in the right places. From the
beginning, we've said that we don't believe that oil and gas
drilling and exploration out to take place everywhere. We believe
that there are places that ought to be off limits, places that are
close to riparian areas and rivers, close to national parks, places
that have ecological value. Minimizing the footprint that oil and
gas production has on public lands is part of the agenda that we
have been implementing now for three years.
In addition to that, there are other efforts we have underway,
including making sure that when wells are drilled, that they have
integrity in how they are constructed. How you deal with the water
quality issue is something that is also addressed.
A number of components of our program is to make sure that oil and
gas production does take place, but we're doing as much as we can
to make sure the environment is protected.
Tim: Great, thank you sir. We've got another question we're going to
take online, and this is about public partnerships, from Cheryl.
She's asking how can local governments work with Interior on all of
our energy production work?
Ken: Local governments are key partners in all of our work on energy.
Obviously, the president has put a major marker down in terms of
efficiency, because we believe we can do a lot more with less
energy. We have a number of partnerships with local governments on
energy efficiency. We have a number of partnerships that we're
pursuing in terms of natural gas and conversion of vehicles over
from diesel and gas over into natural gas.
A whole host of programs that we have where local governments are
key partners with us in terms of recognizing that we can do a lot
more by working together. It's true for the city of Los Angeles and
Denver, Colorado, and St. Louis, and so many other places where I
have been in the last few years, where we have these partnerships
on energy, because mayors and city councils very much recognize the
importance of doing everything that we can do on energy.
That includes efficiency, it includes renewable energy, and it also
includes making sure that energy development is taking place in the
Tim: Great, thank you, Mr. Secretary. The next question is going to be
about the renewable energy tax credits, and how critical those are
to extend in order to keep developing renewable energy in this
Ken: They're essential. We can do so much within our executive power,
but frankly, if we don't have the tax credits extended, it's going
to shut down the energy. It's especially true for wind, because the
wind energy tax credit is set to expire at the end of this year.
Having the Congress act on extending those tax credits is very
important, because industry, all the businesses that are doing wind
energy now in the United States, those businesses have helped us
double the amount of renewable energy just in the last three years
here in the United States.
They need to be able to plan for the long term, and with
uncertainty about the future of the tax credit, now especially for
wind, there's uncertainty in the industry. It's one of those things
that we are very much hoping that the Congress will act on, and the
president has called on Congress to pass those tax measures.
Tim: The next question we're going to go to is from Katie. She's here in
Washington, DC. And she's asking as a manager of public lands, how
is Interior planning for transmission upgrades, and how
specifically will DOI incorporate Indian tribes in this planning
Ken: Katie, as I said before, what we are doing is looking at the entire
grid system through the United States. There really is two aspects
to it, Katie. The first is the onshore, where we know that there
needs to be additional transmission lines that need to be
developed. Those transmission lines are being charted out, and
we're working closely with all the agencies to make sure that those
transmission lines will be built.
And then on the Atlantic, where we believe there's so much
potential, enough power, more power really from wind energy than is
currently used in all the electricity system in the United States,
there's some natural advantages for us. We're working with
companies to build a transmission backbone along the Atlantic, and
those things are going well.
But there's still a lot more that needs to be done, and we continue
to do everything we can within the powers of our administration to
get it done.
Tim: Great. The next question is related to hydropower, and it's from
Lily, and it's come in from the chat just a few moments ago. She's
asking how important is hydropower going to be as part of our
Ken: Lily, hydropower is already a significant part of our renewable
energy portfolio here in the United States. We believe that we can
already take existing what we call low hydropower, and essentially
create additional hydropower from these projects.
Water flows through pipelines, and it now flows across many dams
across the country, but it's not generating electricity. We've been
working with the Department of Energy and with FERC to develop a
program that will have hydropower being a part of our energy
It's going to be a different kind of hydropower than in the past.
We're not looking at big dams where rivers are going to be dammed
to create thousands of megawatts of power, but you can certainly do
something that will be very significant with respect to small
hyrdo, and we're very much leaning into it with the Bureau of
Reclamation and with some of the other agencies that I either
control or I have some influence over.
Tim: Great, thank you, Mr. Secretary. I just want to remind everybody
that this full chat will be available next week at doi.gov. Right
now, we've probably got time for two or three more questions, so if
you've got a burning question you'd like to ask the secretary, now
would be a great time to answer. We'll take a look on here and see
if we can get to it.
In the meantime, there's a question here from Carroll on energy
efficiency. She's asking if there's anything in Interior's agenda
that is focusing on large scale energy efficiency.
Ken: Absolutely. We just on this Monday, for example, here on the
National Mall, put in the new light bulbs. These bulbs, which are
incandescent lights, basically are not going to be produced anymore
in the United States. These new light efficient structures and
bulbs will reduce the amount of energy that is needed on the
National Mall by about 60 percent plus.
That kind of an efficiency program, we are undertaking because we
believe that we can be a great example for the rest of the nation.
Over the last three years, we have funded and stood up some 3,400
projects around the country. They include visitor's centers,
national parks and wildlife refuges, and geological survey
Most of those spaces, what we have done is we have insisted that
they not only have efficiency measures in how those structures are
constructed, but also that they incorporate renewable energy
features. Across the United States, in all 50 states, we have
efficiency and renewable energy programs underway in all of the
facilities that we manage.
The reason for that is we believe strongly that we need to lead by
example. By being a good example, we have 25 million people that
come to the National Mall every year. When they see the kind of
renewable energy facilities that we have on the National Mall, as
well as the efficiency that we have now with lighting on the
National Mall, it's a good way of educating the rest of the public.
Tim: I'll just add that we're actually sitting in the Bison Bistro of
the basement of the Interior Building right now, which was actually
recently certified as a LEED Platinum building, or area. We're very
excited about that as well.
The next question is on solar growth in California, and it's from
Marshall. He asks from your position, what are the types of things
that are hindering solar growth in California, and what are some of
the things that we can do to continue to promote solar in
Ken: Marshall, Governor Brown, and before him, Governor Schwarzenegger,
were very supportive of solar energy. That's why the state of
California is not only the largest consumer right now of solar
energy, but also has the most projects that have actually been
built to supply energy to California.
I think things are going very well in the state of California. The
governor has a program there as well to try and increase the
renewable portfolio standard there in California. I think that
would be a good way of increasing the demand for renewable energy.
Frankly, if the rest of the nation were to follow the pathway of
California relative to renewable energy, we could make even greater
strides. The president has been very strong in saying that what we
need is to have a national clean energy standard. That's what's
driving solar energy development so much in California. On the
other hand, we don't have that kind of a standard in Arizona, or in
other states. If we had a national standard of clean energy, I
think that we could really revolutionize the world of renewable
Tim: Great, thank you, sir. Thank you for everyone. We're at one
o'clock, so we are just about out of time. I want to thank
everybody for tuning in, for joining us today. The full chat will
be available at doi.gov early next week. Also if you want to follow
us on our social media and ask us questions after this, we'll do
our best to answer them.
You can follow us on Twitter on @Interior, on Facebook at
USInterior, or you could email us as firstname.lastname@example.org. I will just
give the secretary a few moments to provide some closing remarks.
But we want to thank you for joining us today. Mr. Secretary, are
there other things you would like to add?
Ken: We want to thank you for joining us, and all of you who are
interested and concerned about energy here in the United States and
in the world. You really are concerned with the number one issue
that is so important to the future of the country.
If we are able to lead the world in this new energy frontier, we
will be able to secure America in a lot of different ways. It means
job security for our country, national security because we have to
import less oil from places that are not friendly to the United
States, and also environmental security. When you wrap it up in the
blanket of security, this is one of the very fundamental and most
important issue that we work on here at the Department of the
I just appreciate that so many of you on this webchat are
interested in the subject, because it will be the defining issue of
the future of the world.
Tim: Great, thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thanks again for everybody. Just
as a final note, we're going to be doing many more of these live
chats in the future. If you are on doi.gov/live right now, there is
a calendar underneath where you will be able to find more
information on more of these chats, and the different issues that
we work on. Thank you again, Mr. Secretary, and thank you everyone,
and have a great weekend.
The Economic Value of Conservation and the Great Outdoors -- Q&A Recorded Live with Secretary Salazar