Secretary wants ‘no climate change deniers’ in her department

Source: Laura Petersen, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2013

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today challenged her employees to take an active role in the “moral imperative” to address climate change.

“I hope there are no climate change deniers in the Department of Interior,” she said.

If there are any, she invited them to visit public lands managed by the agency — be it the melting permafrost in Alaska or shrinking snowpacks in the Sierra Mountains — as proof. “If you don’t believe in it, come out into the resources,” she said.

Interior will be following through on President Obama’s climate change plan, including achieving 20 gigawatts of renewable power on public lands by 2020, she said.

“You and I can actually do something about it,” she said several times. “That’s a privilege, and I would argue it’s a moral imperative.”

Moreover, the former head of REI said the federal government is able to take action on climate change on a scale “orders of magnitude” larger than any individual business, even one as huge as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Jewell addressed employees on her 111th day in office, discussing what she has learned so far as well as challenges and goals.

One of the greatest challenges is the House’s proposed $9.7 billion Interior budget for fiscal 2014, which includes steep cuts to the Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management. She vowed to fight the reductions.

“I’ll go down slugging to get what we can for the good work that you do,” she told employees.

But she noted while she hopes Congress will find a way around sequestration, budgets aren’t going to increase, so the agency will have to become more creative and prioritize. She said employees have told her there are required tasks that get in the way of the agency’s mission. She told managers she would hold them accountable to help refocus time and resources on the work that matters and get rid of the bureaucratic processes that don’t.

She listed six priorities she wants Interior to focus on during her tenure, noting they are “nothing radically different” from what the agency is already doing but perhaps there will be some “tweaks.”

They included celebrating America’s great outdoors, strengthening tribal nations, securing sustainable water supplies, “powering the future” on public lands with both renewable and conventional energy, enhancing youth programs, and increasing landscape-level planning.

Jewell gave a “shout-out” to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor, whom Obama just nominated to become the deputy secretary of Interior (E&E Daily, July 31).

“I couldn’t be happier President Obama nominated Mike for this role,” she said. “We will complement each other’s skills.”

She noted that in her first 111 days — “but whose counting?” — she’s logged enough airline miles to have flown around the Earth one-and-a-half times, visiting with Interior employees, rock climbing on BLM land and “geeking out” over a dam test center in Denver. She also said she has enjoyed socializing with members of Congress, employees and others at nearby Wolf Trap, a National Park Service outdoor concert venue, which has been “a great opportunity for me to tell our story and build relationships in a setting where we get to know each other on personal basis.”

Her speech, friendly and fluid, was full of jokes: “Acronyms were a challenge” when she started at Interior, she said, “even though I was CEO of REI.”