Climate

Interior Secretary Says Climate Change Must Factor Into Decisions To Drill On Public Lands

CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber

United States Interior Secretary Sally Jewell talks with park rangers during a tour of Jamestown Island in Jamestown, Va., Thursday, June 5, 2014.

Secretary Sally Jewell yesterday called for reform to the way that the Department of the Interior manages America’s energy resources in order to address the causes of climate change.

In a bold speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Secretary Jewell outlined the Department of the Interior’s energy priorities and laid out three goals of “safe and responsible energy development, good government, and encouraging innovation” in the final two years of the Obama Administration.

Jewell said that Interior needs to do more to cut carbon pollution, which “should inform our decisions about where we develop, how we develop, and what we develop.”

The Department of the Interior manages the nation’s energy resources, including the coal, oil and gas, located on more than 500 million acres of public land across the country, and more than 1.7 billion acres offshore.

Jewell emphasized the need for balance in the management of the nation’s resources as a key part of the Department’s role in addressing the causes of climate change.

“My responsibility to my grandchildren’s generation is at the top of my mind with every decision we make,” she said, stressing that any new energy development on public lands should be also matched with new protections for lands and waters. “[T]hat is why we must — we must — do more to cut greenhouse gas pollution that is warming our planet.”

Following the speech, a diverse group of environmental organizations, outdoor recreation groups, and others applauded the Secretary’s reform proposals. They specifically praised the call for a balanced approach to managing public lands through master leasing plans, a tool to manage competing interests on federal lands.

One of the groups that applauded the reform proposals was the Hispanic Access Foundation, a non-profit that works to improve the lives of the U.S. Hispanic population.

“For many Latinos, parks and public lands are the center of family life, from hiking, camping and hunting to picnics and reunions,” the group’s president Maite Arce said in a statement. “With Sec. Jewell’s leadership planning for all of the many ways Americans enjoy our public lands, we hope to pass those traditions on for generations to come.”

In addition to stressing the need to balance development and conservation, the Secretary highlighted efforts to reduce methane emissions, increase renewable energy production, and ensure that taxpayers receive a fair return for resources extracted on public lands, specifically from taxpayer-owned coal. Recent reports have shown that coal companies are exploiting loopholes in Interior’s policies to avoid paying full royalties owed to taxpayers, costing taxpayers more than $1 billion every year.

Stating that “most Americans would be surprised to know that coal companies can make a winning bid for about a dollar a ton to mine taxpayer-owned coal,” Jewell called for “an honest and open conversation about modernizing the federal coal program.”

“Importantly, Secretary Jewell acknowledges that the coal program is inconsistent with President Obama’s climate objectives and that in order to protect our children’s health, we must keep dirty fuels in the ground and reform the outdated program” said Athan Manuel, Director of the Lands Protection Program at Sierra Cub, in a statement. “We commend Secretary Jewell for leading the Department of the Interior to support President Obama’s climate plan.”

Jewell also announced that rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing on public lands would be released in the coming days.

Claire Moser is the Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Moser