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February 25, 2013

INTERIOR: Top Ten Questions for Obama Nominee Sally Jewell

February 25, 2013
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President Obama recently nominated Sally Jewell to replace Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior. As the head of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), Jewell showed that she can grow a company, and now she is faced with an opportunity to grow the American economy through responsible stewardship of our nation’s vast energy resources. In the past, Jewell has argued for more regulations and against resource development on federal lands. Her record necessitates rigorous scrutiny by the United States Senate.  IER offers the following ten questions as a sampling of the sorts of questions that Sally Jewell should answer before the American people before she is allowed a vote for confirmation.

10.  Sally Jewell has served on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) since 2004.  During her tenure on the board, the NPCA has been a litigious nuisance to the federal government, suing for hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars while spending more than $300,000 on lobbying in 2012 alone.  Does Jewell believe that this so-called “sue and settle” practice, which gives taxpayer money to groups like the NPCA in order to limit the general public’s access to federal lands, is an appropriate way for the NPCA to influence public policy?

9.  During Jewell’s tenure, the NPCA sued the Army Corps of Engineers regarding hydraulic fracturing (fracking).  An NPCA press release about the 2011 lawsuit quoted an environmental advocate who said that hydraulic fracturing was a “risky industrial activity that has already caused documented environmental and human health impacts,” adding, “No one’s drinking water should be sacrificed in the rush to pursue exploitation of methane gas deposits that have existed for millions of years.”

In the last 60 years, hydraulic fracturing has been employed safely in more than 1.2 million wells without a single confirmed case of groundwater contamination, despite recent efforts by some federal regulators whose power and budgets would benefit from creating a straw man that would be used to justify stricter rules. Does Jewell believe that hydraulic fracturing threatens America’s vital water resources, warranting the restriction of this technology that has created thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in economic growth, and put America on the road to becoming the world’s top oil producer by 2020?

8.  In its 2010 annual report, the NPCA noted that it filed lawsuits stopping the construction of eight new coal plants.  The report boasted that the effort was aimed at stopping “airborne chemicals.”  Given that every criteria pollutant in the Clean Air Act has seen dramatic reduction since the 1970’s, does Jewell still think economic growth in the form of new power plants should be discouraged?  What role do North America’s vast coal resources —  sufficient to provide enough electricity for the next 500 years – play in the administration’s “all of the above” energy strategy?

7.  At a 2007 talk at the University of Montana, Jewell noted that she wanted to see legislation and regulation from government to “help companies make the right decisions” regarding the environment, which sounds like a threat.  Under Jewell’s leadership, REI has a goal of becoming “climate neutral” by 2020.  Does Jewell think that carbon neutrality within the  next seven years is the “right” decision for all U.S. companies and, if so, how does she plan to lead the Department of Interior to “help” companies make that decision?

6.  After working for three years at Mobil Oil, Jewell became a petroleum engineer for Rainer Bank in the early 1980s.  Jewell stayed in the banking sector until leaving for REI in 2000.  In 2009, Jewell said of climate change, “You can’t be a company that is relying on a clean environment and be part of the problem, polluting the environment.”  If companies that produce carbon-based energy are part of the problem, does that mean Jewell was part of the problem for a significant portion of her career?

What efforts has REI made to curtail its sales of refined petroleum products – from mountain bikes to yoga mats, sleeping bags, hiking boots, and virtually every other item on its sales floor?  What about its travel programs, which tout exotic faraway places such as the Annapurna Adventure Trek, and necessitate enormous fossil energy consumption just to travel there?  If so, how does she reconcile her demand that others not profit from carbon-based energy when both her own professional career and her company’s profits have done just that?

5.  When asked in 2009 if REI lobbies the government for environmental causes, Jewell said, “I would not use the term lobbying because we are not really lobbyists, but we do educate.”  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which collates public records data, REI spent $610,000 on lobbying between 2009 and 2012, with $250,000 spent on lobbying in 2012.  Does Jewell care to reconsider her statement “we are not really lobbyists”?

In 2010, President Obama noted in his State of the Union address that America faces a “deficit of trust” that required “action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists.” Earlier, he had pledged that lobbyists wouldn’t “find a job” in his administration. How does Sally Jewell negotiate her administration of REI’s lobbying efforts with her appointment to a top cabinet office, given the president’s views?

4.  Jewell has said that one of the five focus areas of REI’s leadership is “[g]lobal climate change.”  Advocating a carbon tax, she said, “I know tax is a dirty word, but if we were paying a carbon tax that accounted for our impact on greenhouse gases, that would in fact change our consumption.”

Does Jewell think that a carbon tax in the United States would significantly affect climate change? After all, unilateral carbon dioxide emission reductions in the United States would only lead to negligible reduction in global temperatures (using assumptions based on IPCC’s Assessment Reports, if the U.S. as a whole stopped emitting all carbon dioxide emissions today, and the impact on projected global temperature rise would be a reduction, of approximately 0.08°C by the year 2050 and 0.17°C by the year 2100).  Does Jewell think that the government should intervene to stop leisure and recreational activities that involve carbon emissions or consumption?

3.  Jewell has argued strongly against resource development on federal lands, noting in one interview, “Many of the lands that are forests would have been developed with houses today if not for the Greenway Initiative [a local environmentalist effort] . . . .  Every intersection could have had gas stations and fast food establishments.”

Setting aside that the local zoning effort referred to by Ms. Jewell has no correlation with national forests, which are supposed to be used for natural resources for the benefit of citizens but which cannot be sold for gas stations or fast food establishments, should the personal aesthetics of a corporate leader affect government decision making any more than those of any other citizen?  Now that Ms. Jewell is being asked to administer those lands belonging to all other citizens, how does she intend to balance her own well-documented views with the energy and other resource needs of the American people? With economic growth weak and the poorest Americans struggling with wage stagnation, would it be such a bad thing to open more federal lands for resource development to balance conservation with an increase in small business growth?

2.  At the federal level, oil and gas production on federal lands is declining even while it surges on private lands.  Meanwhile, under Ken Salazar, the Department of the Interior denied 1.6 million acres of federal land for shale development, but approved using federal land for 35 renewable projects.

An IER study recently found that opening more federal lands for resource exploration could lead to a $14.4 trillion increase in economic activity over the next thirty seven years.  Given the persistently high unemployment rate the U.S. currently faces, will Jewell support expanding resource exploration on federal lands?  If not, why not?

1.  REI has a stake in hindering multiple-uses of federal lands, or at least it appears to, in that the company appears to take the position that lands should be used only for those activities they profit from, including recreation and leisure. This many help explain REI’s $610,000 in lobbying.   If confirmed to become the Secretary of the Interior, what assurances can Jewell give us that she will fairly weigh the competing “multiple uses” as is required by many of the laws governing federal lands and not favor the outdoor recreation industry? For example, does Jewell think there is too much energy development on federal lands? Is leasing less than 6 percent of onshore lands and less than 2 percent of offshore lands for energy production too much?

President Obama says that he is “proud of the fact” that oil and natural gas production is increasing. Since 96 percent of the increase, according to CRS is from non-federal lands, what will Jewell do to make the President even prouder by actually increasing energy production on federal lands?

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