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Salazar Fails to Calm Oil Drillers after Gulf Meeting

A much anticipated meeting between Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and executives from the oil and gas industries failed to lead to much progress, as both sides expressed frustration with the outcome of Monday's meeting aimed at diffusing simmering tensions in the wake of the BP oil spill.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La) set up the meeting with Salazar, industry executives, and regional lawmakers in order to address frustrations the industry has with the Obama administration's new rules and regulations for offshore oil and natural gas drilling - rules that were put in place after the BP oil spill earlier this year. Landrieu secured the meeting by agreeing to release a legislative hold she had placed on President Obama's budget director nominee.

Obama lifted his moratorium on offshore drilling several months ago, but put in place strict new rules on drilling operations, making it difficult to obtain permits for new wells and imposing stringent safety measures. Some lawmakers and industry executives have said the new rules have created a convoluted, uncertain process.

"We recognize that we have some difficult issues to work through," Salazar told reporters after the meeting in Houma, La. The Interior Department released a readout of the meeting, in which Salazar pledged to continue to work to ensure that industry representatives understood the rules - and stressed that safety was a priority.

But others said the meeting was mostly talk and little action.

"We all came expecting, hoping, for a new policy decision, a breakthrough in terms of permitting, at least a new set of permits issued, and we heard none of that," said Sen. David Vitter, (R-La.), after the meeting. "That was extremely disappointing."

Landrieu did not attend the meeting she helped to arrange, but said she, too, was disappointed with Salazar and with the lack of tangible progress made in the meeting.

"I am extremely disappointed that Secretary Salazar's presentation today failed to provide regulatory certainty and a clear path for speeding up the process of issuing drilling permits," she said, and reiterated that industry leaders were rightfully skeptical about the new laws. "I was assured a clear path forward was imminent, and I hope it still is. However, there are many other tools at our disposal, and our delegation will use every one to send the message that it is harmful to our economy and our national security to keep this industry in the dark and on the sidelines."

The administration did commit to a "tiered-permitting" process, which could expedite permits for new wells by taking a tiered approach to worst-case oil spill scenarios.

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