Obama’s pick to head Dept of Interior gets the nod from environmentalists

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

Environmentalists have cheered the decision by the Obama administration to tap Recreational Equipment Inc. CEO Sally Jewell as secretary of the interior, a position to be vacated by Ken Salazar.

“In Jewell, President Obama chose a leader with a demonstrated commitment to preserving the higher purposes public lands hold for all Americans – recreation, adventure, and enjoyment,” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement.

“Jewell’s unique experience and her love of America’s outdoors will be invaluable to the stewardship of the waters, lands and wildlife we’ve been entrusted to protect for our children,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

President Obama remarked that Jewell would play a role in develop policies for promoting clean energy sources and combating climate change. Jewell will also be faced with managing 500 million acres of federal lands during a fierce debate over whether to allow for increased access for oil and gas development.

“America’s public lands and endangered species are in dire need of leadership,” Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Daily Caller News Foundation in an emailed statement. “We hope Sally Jewell brings the same determination and transparency to running the Department of the Interior as she did to REI. Change at that agency is desperately needed.”

Salazar announced his departure from the Obama administration after volleys of criticism from conservative groups for closing off public lands and offshore areas to drilling, leading to declining oil and gas production on federal lands while production on state and private lands is booming.

“President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have presided over the most abysmal stewardship of public lands in recent history,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president at the Institute for Energy Research, last October.

Under Salazar, the Interior Department closed off 1.6 million acres in November that were originally slated for shale development. However, Salazar gave the go ahead for 34 renewable energy projects on federal lands — including utility-scale solar facilities, wind farms, as well as geothermal plants.

“Oil production on federal lands declined last year. Natural gas production on federal lands is in a free fall,” Kish added. “Western oil shale is under an Obama embargo, and our vast offshore energy resources must now wait another 5 years for development thanks to the president’s most recent 5 year [Outer Continental Shelf] plan.”

Jewell will also preside over the implementation of the first rules for hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — on federal lands. The controversial drilling method has been a target for environmental who argue that it poses risks to air and water quality.

“It is clear the Secretary of the Interior nominee has a passion for national parks, but the challenge is whether she will value our wild lands and wildlife in the face of endless pressure by industry to drill for fossil fuels in areas under Interior’s jurisdiction,” Snape added. “If she can stand strong against bad ideas such as Arctic oil drilling and fracking on public lands, then she will likely be a success. Nature needs a true champion at this point in history.”

Just last month, the Interior Department once again delayed a major fracking rule that would require oil and gas companies drilling on federal lands to disclose chemicals used in fracking.

“I have a great job at REI today, but there’s no role that compares than the call to serve my country as secretary of the Department of Interior,” said Jewel about her nomination.

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