November 7th, 2013
U.S. Secretary of the Interior
It was a full house at Climate One for U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
From parks and energy exploration to Twinkies, horses and dogs, Jewell covered more than her agenda to manage America’s vast natural and cultural resources.
She opened the discussion with her support for the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, which will engage citizens in hands-on service and job training experiences on public lands, waterways, cultural heritage sites and community green spaces.
The initiative is similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, but “it’s far more holistic,” Jewell said. Some main differences include engagement with the private sector, cities and businesses.
"There’s nothing like the outdoors and working on public lands to heal the some of the scars that wars dish out to our troops," Jewell said.
The U.S. Department of the Interior plays a critical role in maintaining federal lands, including parks in urban areas, such as Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
"You felt the shutdown, right?” Jewell asked. “When your urban parks are run by the federal government, you feel it. And if there’s a silver lining to the shutdown, it is that people had a much better appreciation of how much they use and enjoy these lands.”
Jewell outlined the government’s efforts to work closely with cities across the country to engage children in places to play and learn. The Land & Water Conservation Fund helps support conservation objectives, but it has only once been appropriated at the full level of funding, Jewell said.
When asked about deferred maintenance in the national parks, she referred to issues with funding.
“We could start by being rational about how we spend the money that we have,” Jewell said. "The reality is, people love their public lands and they want them to be taken care of."
Citizens are interested in parks because they care about quality of life, healthy children and healthy watersheds, she said.
"Our charge is to really tell the story of America, to protect the history and the culture of this land,” Jewell said to applause from the audience. “Our job is not to drive a return on that investment, even though we do."
With the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service approaching, Jewell said the best birthday present would be a budget that supports the park service.
“We don’t want the centennial to go by without really putting the national parks on peoples’ radar,” Jewell said.
An avid outdoors person, Jewell has traveled the world to climb mountains as well as pursue business objectives.
“Every place I’ve gone, the impact of climate change has been very evident,” Jewell said. “Here in California, you’ve got a problem with water – I hope you know that. I hope you use as little of it as possible.”
With warmer temperatures resulting in declining snowpack and less snowfall, water is a central issue now and in the future.
“If we don’t provide sufficient water to support the ecosystem, you could have an ecosystem collapse here in California,” she said. “That’s how serious it is within the Bay Delta.”
She spoke about coastal erosion in Alaska and the low altitude of airline runways in the Marshall Islands, which won’t be there with rising sea levels.
“One of the reasons I was delighted when I got the call for this job is this is a job where you actually have an opportunity to do something about it,” Jewell said. “And it’s important for all of us to do something.”
Conservation is critical, but the voices of citizens are also important, and businesses will change behavior based on policies set by elected officials, she said.
Before becoming a public servant, Jewell was a businessperson for 35 years. A former oil-field engineer, she later became CEO of the Seattle-based outdoor retailer REI.
When asked if the administration could be a serious climate leader and also promote more coal extraction and oil drilling, Jewell was confident in its ability to maintain balance. She reminded the audience, “we can’t switch from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy economy overnight.”
“It’s important that we do both.”
On fracking, a practice she has carried out herself along with one other audience member, Jewell said there is “a lot of misinformation” out there.
“We want to make sure that on public lands we have very good regulations the public can feel good about,” Jewell said.
During the longest line of audience questions to date, Jewell responded to inquiries about recreation, dog management, resource extraction, renewables, national monuments, wild horses and the challenges of fighting climate change on a federal level.
"The president has made it very clear that carbon pollution is an issue," Jewell said.
- Danielle Torrent
November 7, 2013
Photos by Ed Ritger
The Commonwealth Club of California