Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sally Jewell's Frustrating First Year In Washington

...Addressing climate change is just part of Jewell's ambitious agenda. She took office in April 2013 pledging to invest more in the future of the country's national parks, and to engage a new generation of Americans -- one more concerned with Grand Theft Auto than the Grand Canyon -- in the great outdoors. Obama hailed her as "an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future," and charged her with finding a balance between the oft-competing environmental and economic potential of the country's public lands. But much of her first year has been spent dealing with more basic problems -- like how to pay for these ambitious projects. Asked what the biggest challenge of her new job has been so far, Jewell doesn't hesitate. "The budget," she said. "Navigating through a three-week shutdown, navigating through sequestration, furloughs, and being in the forever business." "The forever business" is a term Jewell employs frequently to refer to Interior's responsibility for overseeing 640 million acres of public lands -- a full 28 percent of the total U.S. landmass -- which includes 401 National Park Service sites, as well as vast tracts of the West used for grazing and energy development. "People expect us to do things for the long term," she explained. "This is the longest-term focused job that I've had, and yet it's the shortest-term focused budget that I've ever operated under. That makes no sense." Congressional funding for the National Park Service, which will celebrate its centennial in 2016, has declined in recent years, even as the parks themselves face mounting costs for routine maintenance, as well as new infrastructure challenges related to climate impacts. Moreover, the past year's budget battles have hurt employee morale and sent scientists scrambling to preserve key programs. "It's been very difficult for staff to know whether they have a job or not, whether they continue their research or not," Jewell said. "I've never been in a job before where, no matter what I do, somebody is unhappy with me," Jewell told HuffPost. "I have found that just about every decision I make gets sued," she added. This is especially true when it comes to decisions about how public lands are used. The agency must balance competing priorities when it does or does not lease public lands for oil and gas development, or decides what should be preserved for its environmental and recreational values. One way Jewell has tried to bring equilibrium is by developing new "master leasing plans" for vast regions of Wyoming, Utah, Montana and Colorado...more

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