Jewell Addresses Western Governors Confab
New Interior Secretary Sally Jewell traveled to a political lion's den Friday (June 28) – a gathering in Park City, Utah, of Western governors who complained about federal control of public lands that make up much of the West and Alaska.
In a private moment, she won over the politicians with promises of collaboration, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said.
Jewell devoted much of her prepared remarks to the importance of outdoor recreation as a major economic driver, even as many of the governors put their priority on energy development, the Modesto (Calif.) Bee reported.
"Finding the balance starts by understanding each other," Jewell told Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who challenged her on the right use of public lands. "I can tell you that having spent quite a bit of time over the years in Moab, and hiking in Canyonlands and Arches, that balance to that community is healthy national parks that are well staffed, that can service the people."
In other places of the West, balance means maintaining grazing rights for ranchers, she added.
Jewell took office in April. The former chief of Recreational Equipment Inc., a $2 billion retailer of outdoor gear, she represented a new face for a cabinet post more often associated with ranching or oil, gas and mining interests. On Friday, she made clear she was bringing a different perspective to the competing forces over use of the federal government's vast lands.
Jewell has a varied background that includes a stint as petroleum engineer, and she gave a nod Friday to "more efficient" government approvals for oil and gas drilling. Delays in issuing drilling permits for lease sales emerged Friday as one of the biggest complaints voiced at the Western Governors' Association annual meeting at a resort hotel in Park City.
In response, Neil Kornze, principal deputy director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), said his agency was speeding up an approval process that can take years, but he also turned the question around.
Kornze said that oil and gas companies are sitting on 7,000 drilling permits, taking no action to sink a well.
The BLM approval process was slowed over the years by environmental protests, which held up half of all drilling permits, he said. But protests over government lease sales for drillers on public lands are declining because BLM is devoting more study to where drilling is appropriate, he said.
Now, only 20% of BLM-approved drilling projects are being held up by protests that trigger internal environmental reviews, he said.
Jewell left the governors' meeting shortly after delivering her public remarks, but said she planned to linger in Utah Saturday for a hike in the Oquirrh mountains.
Jewell signaled no definitive policy shifts, but she hasn't been in office long enough, said Hickenlooper, who is replacing Utah's governor as chairman of the Western Governors' Association.
During a private lunch Friday, Jewell pledged to collaborate with Western governors on every major federal decision affecting public lands. "it was "the first question she was asked," Hickenlooper said.
Several governors said at a news conference held after Jewell's departure that they embraced her vision of outdoor recreation as an important use of federal lands. But Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said the government's vision of recreation can be "dysfunctional" when federal agencies shut down forest roads to vehicles or close trails to protect land.
"A large portion of Idaho is federal land, and we need more cooperation," he said.
The Western governors' annual meeting concluded Sunday.