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BY CHRIS CASTEEL Published: January 26, 2010
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WASHINGTON — U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar acknowledged some conflicts with the oil and gas industry during his first year in office, but said Monday that he’s trying to protect taxpayers and the environment.

Meeting with reporters for a session of the Platts Energy Podium, the secretary also said that natural gas will have a role as the nation moves toward clean energy. He said he was not familiar with bipartisan legislation being promoted by T. Boone Pickens to shift heavy vehicles to natural gas use.

Salazar, who was a U.S. senator from Colorado when he agreed last year to be interior secretary in the new Obama administration, has frustrated the oil and gas industry with what it sees as delays in opening up federal lands to exploration. Two weeks ago, the secretary characterized the oil and gas industry as "essentially the kings of the world” under former President George W. Bush’s administration.

He said that era has come to an end as he announced expanded environmental reviews of areas subject to oil and gas leasing.

U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, criticized Salazar’s "kings of the world” rhetoric and sent him a letter accusing the department of killing jobs in an industry made up primarily of small businesses.

Asked on Monday about his relationship with the industry, Salazar said, "I am very much at peace with everything we’ve done concerning reforms for the oil and gas world, and there are more reforms to come.”

Changes made
Besides expanding environmental reviews, Salazar also killed the program that allowed energy companies to give the government oil and gas instead of paying royalties for production on federal lands; critics said the program short-changed taxpayers. The secretary also withdrew Bush-era proposals to expand oil shale research on public lands, and he reorganized the oft-maligned Minerals Management Service.