I hope this one really annoys George W, the recently departed President of the United States and his oil industry cronies.

In what is a signal that Obama’s administration is changing direction in relation to energy poicy on public lands, the newly installed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has cancelled 77 highly controversial oil and gas leases in Utah.

Salazar’s decision reverses the Bush administration’s move to allow drilling on about 130,000 acres of Southern Utah’s scenic wilderness that was conducted in the Bush Administration’s dying days. However, the sale was thrown into complete chaos when University of Utah student, Tim DeChristopher, monkey-wrenched the auction by winning bids on parcels with no intention of paying the $1.8 million owed for the leases.

“The policy positions of the department over the last eight years have really been driven out of the White House, and we’re looking at many of those decisions,” Salazar said. “I believe, as President Obama does, that we need to responsibly develop our oil and gas supplies to help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we must do so in a thoughtful and balanced way.”

Actor Robert Redford who had been a vociferous and vocal opponent of the lease sale said in a statement that Salazar’s announcement was “a sign that after eight long years of rapacious greed and backdoor dealings, our government is returning a sense of balance to the way it manages our lands”. He added that “American citizens once again have a say in the fate of their public lands, which in this case happen to be some of the last pristine places on Earth.”

Not surprisingly the oil industry is up in arms. Kathleen Sgamma, director of government affairs for the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States,  said  “These lands, where vast amounts of domestic, clean energy are found, are crucial to meeting the president’s energy goals of increasing energy security and tackling climate change.”

But it may be just too premature to celebrate. Salazar said his staff will review the 77 Utah leases, valued at a total of $6 million, and might still offer some at auction. Ironically Salazar’s decision does not resolve the issues surrounding Christopher. The US Attorney for Utah, Brett Tolman is still considering whether to press charges against him. “The decision to withdraw the leases does not wipe the slate clean,” Tolman said in a statement.

You have to wipe the slate, Brett. Only then can we begin to believe that the Obama Administration is really entering into a new type of politics, where the actions live up to the words. You can wipe the slate clean, Brett. Yes you can.