Although bread and butter conservation groups like the National Wildlife Federation are lauding her outdoor credentials, the idea of Sally Jewell, the current CEO of REI, as the next Secretary of the Interior raises serious questions over whether the Obama Administration has any sense at all about how to confront our nation’s mounting energy and climate crisis.
Don’t get me wrong; the Interior Department manages more than 1/5 of the land in the United States, making the Agency the top provider of outdoor recreation opportunities. In this regard, Sally Jewell is a stellar candidate when it comes to advancing appreciation and protection of the Interior Department’s outside world. After all, as CEO of REI (that’s Recreational Equipment, Inc.), she’s shown that outdoor recreation is not only good for the environment, but good for business.
But recreation isn’t all that the Interior Department does. It’s a sliver of what it does.
In fact, at its heart, the Interior Department is an energy agency. Overseeing all federally owned coal, oil, and natural gas, Interior is an energy juggernaut, and most of that energy is fossil fuel-based. Consider that nearly 60% of all coal burned in the U.S. and more than a third of all oil and gas produced in nation comes from federal reserves (and that’s not even taking into account the fact that Interior’s Office of Surface Mining oversees virtually 100% of all coal mining in the nation, and that Interior’s Bureau of Land Management authorizes scads of private and state oil and gas drilling on its lands).
Interior isn’t just a fossil fuel peddler, it’s a fossil fuel overlord, making it one of the most influential and important government agencies when it comes to energy policy in the U.S.
It also makes the Interior Department one of the most important agencies when it comes to confronting the effects of global warming, which is being fueled by greenhouse gas emissions from coal, oil, and gas. After all, but for Interior’s approval, much of our fossil fuels would not be produced for consumption, making the Agency one of the largest contributors to our nation’s overwhelming greenhouse gas footprint.
Put another way, in the face of global warming and its disastrous effects on our environment and economy, including extreme weather, drought, deforestation, and rising air pollution, the Interior Department is on the most wanted list of those responsible.
Which is why Sally Jewell’s nomination for Interior Secretary is a shock. Here is an agency that stands to play a critical role in transitioning our nation to clean energy, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and meaningfully addressing the threat of global warming. And what does the President do? He nominates an outdoor enthusiast who refused to take a stand on climate change for fear of upsetting customers with a “broad array of political views.”
To be fair, the President asserted she is an “expert” on energy and climate issues. However, the only relevant “expertise” seems to be a stint as an oil company engineer. Cutting through the rhetoric, it seems apparent that her appointment stems from her support for outdoor recreation initiatives, not any leadership on solving our nations’ climate and energy challenges.
Despite the hullabaloo over the President’s renewed commitment to confronting global warming, his appointment of Sally Jewell as Interior Secretary seems to send the signal that we should expect more business as usual.
That’s disturbing. Although Interior has made much about its efforts to develop 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public lands, its most recent coal leasing decisions alone will fuel more than 300,000 megawatts of fossil fuel energy generation.
To say things are lopsided, as former Interior Secretary, Bruce Babbitt, commented, would be an understatement.
Fundamentally, we can’t continue on a path that is wholly dependent on coal, oil, and natural gas, and expect to have any chance of reversing, or at least stabilizing, the effects of global warming. This means the Interior Department must make transitioning away from fossil fuels a number one priority. Given her background and the rhetoric around her nomination, it seems extremely unlikely that priorities will shift at all at Interior if Sally Jewell is confirmed.
With the latest Secretary of Interior nomination, it seems we can expect great conservation initiatives, collaboration with recreational interests, and perhaps greater protection for lands and wildlife in the U.S. It seems unlikely that with Sally Jewell, we can expect any change when it comes to leading our nation forward on clean energy and in truly confronting the climate crisis.