Earth Day Webchat with Secretary Jewell
April 22, 2013
Good afternoon. Welcome to the Bison Bistro at the Department of the Interior. My name is Tim Fullerton. I am the Director of Digital Strategy here. I am honored today to present to you the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, who will be answering your questions on Earth Day, National Park Week and any other questions you would like answers to, over the next 30 minutes. Without further ado, I will turn it over to Secretary Jewell for some opening remarks.
Thank you very much Tim. Thanks everybody for tuning in. I look forward to many of these in the future. This is my inaugural one, so I really appreciate you joining in.
First, I want to acknowledge that today is Earth Day. Earth Day was created by a friend of mine, Dennis Hayes, a fellow Seattleite, who founded this back when I was in high school. Sorry Dennis, I know you're a little bit older than I am. Earth Day was a great opportunity for all of us to recognize our place on planet Earth and how we shape the future of this Earth.
I have to tell you that it's a true privilege and honor to be representing now the American people at the Department of Interior, with Earth Day as a great platform to think about our impact on this planet. I'd also like to have knowledge that this is National Parks Week. I had a great hike in Shenandoah National Park just yesterday, so I invite everyone to get out and enjoy the national parks, particularly this week. They won't cost you anything, if you go from Monday through Friday. If you can work that into your schedule, please do.
I wanted to just start by giving you a little bit of an introduction to me. I grew up really in the Pacific Northwest enjoying the great outdoors, which is readily accessible from that area. I graduated from the University of Washington in 1978 with a degree in engineering. I went to work in the oil and gas industry, which I did for three years, first in Oklahoma and then in Colorado. Through that experience, I got a sense of our mineral resources, how they are extracted, how they are used and how essential they have been to our transportation fuels, our energy generation, and I've seen that from the ground up.
I wanted to move back to Seattle. I spent 19 years in commercial banking, first with expertise in natural resources, and then expanding. I worked with Indian tribes, I worked with Alaska native corporations, I worked with ranchers, and miners, and farmers, and manufacturers, timber companies and so on, in my time in banking.
For the last 13 years immediately before this job, I was an executive with REI, the outdoor equipment retailer, which gave me a real clear view of how important active outdoor recreation on public lands is to the economy. Not only companies like REI, but gateway communities, and so on.
I come to this job, my first opportunity to serve you, the public. There is no higher calling, from my perspective, than public service. I've seen that in the wonderful employees of the Department of the Interior that I've met, in what is now the beginning of my second week on the job.
As I drink from this fire hose of information in this vast department, I really look forward to learning from the community members, learning from the stakeholder groups, and certainly learning from the employees of the Department of the Interior to help me do an effective job as I serve this company over the coming four years. Thanks very much again for tuning in, and Tim, what are the questions?
The first one is an appropriate one to kick off with, this is from Bree. She says, "'Take our sons and daughters to work' day is happening later this week. With that in mind, can you explain a typical schedule for your day, and also talk about what path led you to accept this position? Did you always know you wanted to serve in this capacity?"
That's kind of a mouthful. First, anybody that has an opportunity to take their sons or daughters to work, I encourage you to do it. There are so many great professions in this country that children don't have any knowledge of. I think if you can reach out and bring your child with you, to help understand your typical day, that is just great. Because not only will they see you at work, but they'll see a lot of others, and the vast array of jobs that we have in this country, so I encourage you to do that.
My typical day? I'm in my second week on the job, so I'm not sure I can answer that, specifically. I will tell you that it's important that I prioritize my time with the things that are important to me, to the President, and to the Department of the Interior.
Last week was my first week on the job. My first official outside meeting was with a group of tribal leaders from the Indian tribes that represent over 500 tribes throughout our nation. That was an enormously valuable opportunity for me to understand the issues that are really critical to tribes, as I serve now in a capacity as a critical trust resource upholding our trust and treaty obligations to tribes.
I also had a great opportunity last week to meet with a number of stakeholder groups who are visiting in Washington, DC, making calls on The Hill to understand their perspectives. Today I had a briefing on electricity transmission lines. Later on today I'll be meeting with some folks on mapping that's being done by the USGS.
All I can tell you is that typical will be a very different array of broad topics every week. I will be out traveling here fairly soon, once I get my feet on the ground, to see many of the resources that I'm now responsible for overseeing.
Great. All right, the next question comes from Bruce, and it's related to the America's Great Outdoors Initiative. His question is what is your vision for the department's role in carrying out the President's America's Great Outdoors Initiative?
I had the great privilege over the course of the last four years of participating in the America's Great Outdoors Initiative. REI and the Outdoor Industry Association helped host listening sessions around the country. I think that Secretary Salazar, as charged by President Obama, did a really nice job of engaging the cross bureaus to understand what is America's great outdoors.
Some of the things that came out of that are recognition of how important the great outdoors are for the economic prosperity of our country overall, over $700 billion of economic activity generated by active outdoor recreation. That takes place largely on public lands.
Obviously, not just because these are great places for us to renew and refresh, but these are also very important places for us to generate economic activity, especially in some of the rural communities or gateway communities along the way.
I certainly intend to continue the momentum that was started by Secretary Salazar, and the other cabinet and bureau officials that have worked closely with him, in this effort so that we raise awareness of the importance of connecting people to America's great outdoors.
In a follow-up to that from Jackie, her question is how will you as Secretary of the Interior ensure that more kids have access and opportunities to explore and enjoy America's great outdoors?
Now, the next generation of leaders in this country, obviously, are the children that are being born today and that are playing in our playgrounds today. There is a growing disconnect between children and nature across our country for a variety of reasons. We think about screen time and how much time kids spend in front of a screen, but also homework, organized youth sports, things that create time for adults to be telling children what to do.
I think that it is critically important that children have time to explore on their own terms, to exercise their curiosity. It's very important in an urbanizing world, and particularly in our country, that kids in urban areas have an opportunity to connect with a park, or an open space, and explore that to satisfy their own curiosity, to make up their own rules and not just have an adult telling them what to do all the time.
I think America's Great Outdoors provides a great place to do that, whether it is the great outdoors close to home in an urban area, or whether it's the vast lands of the BLM or our national parks. Look forward to finding opportunities to working across agencies, and states, and local areas to connect more children to nature overall.
Great, thank you. Just if you're tuning in right now, you're watching Secretary Jewell answering your questions on Earth Day, National Park Week, and any other questions that you'd like to ask. If you have one, you can use the chat box at the bottom. We've already gotten a ton of questions, so we'll do our best to get to as many as possible.
With that we're going to shift gears a little bit and move to sequestration. John from Washington wants to know what impacts will sequestration have this year, beginning now on access to and services associated with, outdoor activities such as fishing and hunting on public lands?
Well, as a business person, I'm used to managing to budgets, but I'm used to doing that in a really rational way, which is, you decide the areas that you need to focus on, your priorities, and you may take resources from an area that's lower priority and put it into an area that's higher priority.
Sequestration does not allow us to do that. It is not a sensible way to run a business, and it's not a sensible way to run government. The way sequestration works is it has to be taken across the board on a line item by line item basis.
To get specifically to the question, when you have to cut across a line item, if that line item is largely people, for example, rangers that are serving in our national parks, or fish and wildlife agents that are working in a wildlife refuge, or a BOM land manager that's opening a camp ground, you're going to see all of those services impacted.
For example, I was in Shenandoah National Park, as I mentioned, over the weekend, and the ranger there is going to have to delay the opening of the camp grounds because of sequestration. That's a great example.
The teams in the Department of the Interior will do the best job they can with the resources that they have to serve the public, but there is no question that sequestration will impact a visitor's experience, whether it's a closed camp ground, the inability to get an expert to help answer their questions, the maintenance that needs to be done.
Because that is the way the sequester happened, and I hope that our elected officials that will come up with some alternative that is more rational to managing a budget than what the sequester requires all of us to do by law.
We have a follow-up question from Peggy, which is about volunteerism in public lands.
She says, "At the employee meeting on April 18th, you spoke about getting youth outdoors through service and amping up volunteers on public lands. Are you interested in making volunteerism on public lands, including youth volunteerism in partnership with our corporate and nonprofit partners, one of the focuses as your time as Secretary of Interior?"
I think it's fair to say that now, in the beginning of my second week, I'm still working on my priorities, but there's little doubt that volunteerism on public lands, and connecting more people to our public lands, will become a central part of what is important to me.
In my work at REI, we did a lot of work with stakeholder partners, core network groups, student conservation association, on many types of public lands, I saw first-hand, by doing a lot of service projects myself every year, the connection that happens when a person goes out and volunteers, they don't view that place the same way that they did before.
They may be doing trail work, they may be picking up garbage, they may be removing invasive species or planting new species, and it teaches them about that location.
It connects them to a place like nothing ever before, and the more we can do that, the more we can help bridge people to America's great outdoors and our public lands, the more of a service we'll do to them, and the more of a service we'll do to our public lands as well.
We have great opportunities to do that, and I know there have been millions of hours of volunteer services already provided by hundreds of thousands of people in units of the Department of the Interior, and I'll absolutely look to continue that.
I'll just add that if you're looking for information on student volunteer efforts, you can go to youthgo.gov, where we have a list of all of our opportunities that are available at the departments, so check that out.
We're going to shift gears a little bit here and go to a question related to renewable energy. It's appropriate for Earth Day. Joan from Virginia would like to know, "What do you intend to do to expedite the process of approving offshore wind leases, so the US can catch up with Europe and have this abundant form of clean energy?"
Well, I appreciate the question. One of the hallmarks, I think, of Secretary Salazar's time as Secretary of the Interior has been to cast a spotlight on the opportunities we have with renewable energy, and to try to expedite the process of development. Some of the first offshore wind leases are coming up. You have to...of course, once you get the energy, you have to move it.
His team here has worked on something called Smart from the Start, and I look forward to continuing that, which is making sure that we know where the wind potential is, the solar potential, as well as conventional means of energy generation, that we get ahead of the game on transmission, to move that energy from wherever it occurs to where the people are that are going to be using it, or where the load is needed.
Those are long and complicated processes, so I will certainly continue the momentum that has occurred. I will say that at REI, we worked hard on using renewable energy and creating a market for that, so the more that it is available, the more that I think you'll see tremendous demand on the part of business that chooses to be sustainable, and we can help be part of that solution.
We have a follow-up question to that answer from DB on the chat, and it's, "Tribes in the Southwest US generally support renewable energy development, but not at the cost of cultural or historic resources." They want to get your thoughts on that statement.
I think it is really, really important that we understand the land that we are overseeing. We have great potential in working with tribes, in working with states, and communities, and stakeholder groups, and businesses, to understand the underlying resources that we have, and then where those resources might conflict with the things that are important.
For example, if we're citing a transmission line, we really need to work with tribes to understand, "Is this going through a culturally significant area, and is there an alternative?"
I will absolutely look forward to working with a broad group of stakeholders at every level, and this is a good part of what I talked to senators about during my confirmation hearings, that we need people around the table so we understand those things, and they're not coming up at the last minute and surprising us.
The next question is from Doris in Colorado, and she asks, "People in Longmont, Colorado, are really concerned about the fracking process and how it could affect the quality of their lives in the environment. What could be done to make the public more comfortable with the fracking process?"
I have a little bit of an unusual background in that I started my career as an engineer for Mobil Oil in Oklahoma, so I'm not sure if I'm the first Secretary of the Interior to have actually fracked a well, but there probably aren't too many of us. I will say this, that fracking as a technique has been around for decades, something like 60 years.
I have performed the procedure myself, very safely, on wells that I worked in Oklahoma, yet I know that as technologies have evolved, and as new techniques of fracking have been used, there's been a lot of concern about its impact on the environment.
First and foremost, what's important is that we understand the specific circumstances, that we exploit those natural resources in a way that is safe and responsible, and one thing that's clear to me, from my own experience, is that one size doesn't fit all.
If you're fracking in a formation that is well away from ground water, thousands of feet away, as long as you have good wellbore integrity, the risks should be low. If you're doing a procedure that's closer to ground water, that may be a different situation.
What we are working on here is to come out with a set of rules that will provide predictability to industry, and environmental protections necessary for local communities, to do it in a safe and responsible way, and those are going to be released here very soon.
Great. Thank you, Secretary Jewell.
The next question is related to the Department's sustainability footprint, and the question is from Kara. She asks, "What steps to you plan to implement to improve the Department of the Interior's sustainability footprint?"
Sally: One week and one day onto the job, I'm not fully briefed on all of the efforts that the Department of the Interior's made around sustainability. I will tell you this, that in my job at REI, we had a tremendous focus on sustainability, and it's published on the REI website. Through that, I learned that to be sustainable from a business standpoint, it has to be economically sustainable, as well as good for the planet.
We learned in many ways, from green buildings to just not using energy to begin with, to using renewables, and many different aspects, that our choices around sustainability were actually good for business. What I have seen at the Department of the Interior is a commitment to being more sustainable in the way we run our operations, and I look forward to digging in, and perhaps bringing some of my experiences to bear there.
If we do it well, we'll actually save the taxpayer money, because that's why it was important for us to do it at REI, and why so many other businesses are engaged in it. You can expect to see me focus on those things that make economic sense for the American taxpayer, as well as make us feel better about our own footprint in the work that we do.
Thank you, Secretary Jewell. Just a reminder that we're taking your questions, probably for the next five or six minutes, on Earth Day, National Park Week, or a variety of other topics. Please feel free to post them in the chat below.
We're going to keep moving along, and this question is from Brandy, again in Colorado. "If possible, I would like to know what Secretary Jewell's priorities are in regards to Native Americans and Alaska natives, and also whether you have any prior experience working with Native Americans or Alaska natives?"
The short answer to the last question first, is that as I referenced, as a banker I did business with Alaska native corporations, as well as Indian tribes. I got a good sense of, first, the diversity between different corporations in Alaska and different tribes. But also the commonality of interest of engaging from an employment standpoint, members of the tribe, or shareholders in the native corporation, of taking care of the land that is interested to them.
What I am learning, and I spent, as I mentioned earlier, a good chunk of time last Friday meeting with tribal leaders from around the country, learning what the critical issues are for Indian tribes in this country. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education, we are committed to fully upholding our treaty and trust obligations to tribes around this country.
I know that there are other needs that are very significant, and different, around the country. What we will do is create an environment for those needs to come forward. I am learning, I don't pretend to be expert yet, but I do intend to spend a lot of time with tribal leaders, and out visiting specific sites to better understand the issues as they relate to any given area, and making sure that we are upholding the responsibilities to which we're obligated.
Thank you. The next question is another one from the chat, and this is from "dumfi." The question is, "I was wondering what pieces of advice you would give to a recent grad who would like to find a vocation that services people and the environment?"
I will say first and foremost, to a recent grad, I encourage you to take advantage of some of the volunteer opportunities on public lands. I encourage you to reach out into stakeholder groups that share a common interest with your interests, so you can bring the skills you have to bear to the needs of those prospective employers.
Whether it's the federal government, as I've now chosen to join, or a state park system, or a nonprofit organization, or even a business that is interested in doing the right thing.
REI, again going back to my prior career, hired a number of individuals. They might have started working in a retail store, but showed an affinity for our programs out in the communities, and then ended up at headquarters in some capacity.
I don't know that I've got specific pieces of advice, other than get yourself exposed to the people that might be able to offer you a job, show them what you have to offer, and you should make your own way.
The other thing I would say is, understand your personal values. What's important to you? What caused you to pursue the educational path that you had? Align your interests and your personal values with the organization you're going to work for, and you can't go wrong.
I would just add, if you're looking for a job within the federal government, you can go to usajobs.gov. That's where all the job opportunities of the Department of the Interior are available right now.
We have time for one more question before we go to closing thoughts, and this is from Ron here in Washington DC. The question is, "The President's National Travel and Tourism Strategy calls for the federal government to work with industry to increase international travel to the US. What are the National Park Service and Department of the Interior doing to help entice international visitors to the public lands you now manage?"
First, I want to say that if you go to a national park, just about anywhere in the country, sometimes you might go through three or four different groups of people before you hear English being spoken. The crown jewels of this country are our national park system.
Often times, the places people come to visit, whether it's a civil war battlefield, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Grand Canyon, or one of our iconic national parks, there is no question that when we invest a dollar in a national park it gets about $10 back in economic activity for the United States. A lot of that is foreign tourism dollars that we wouldn't otherwise have.
To tie back in, Tim, to the earlier question on sequestration, we need to make sure that if somebody spends a lot of money and time, and invests in a trip to the United States to see some of our public lands and experience them, that they will come back again because they had a good experience.
Sequestration makes it difficult, sometimes, for that visitor experience to be as robust as we aspire for it to be, or the facilities to be maintained in a way that we want to have them maintained.
Foreign tourism is critical, as we talked about earlier, but I would say that making our public lands accessible to foreign visitors is very, very important. I know the President's Travel and Tourism Board was created largely for that purpose. It relates to making it easy for people to visit the country, for people to have a good experience when they get there, and with the resources we have, I want to make sure that we're able to do that in Department of Interior properties. Lots of work to do to continue to enhance that.
Thank you Secretary Jewell. I'll just add that if you're watching us internationally, you can go to recreation.gov and check out all the public lands that are available in the United States. We also have a translation service on there, which I believe translates into over 60 languages.
With that, we are running out of time here, so I'm just going to turn it over to Secretary Jewell to just offer some closing remarks.
I'll make this quick, but first I want to thank you for tuning in, and for your interest. I can tell, by looking over Tim's shoulder here, that he's got lots of questions that I didn't have a chance to get to, that have been coming in over the computers.
I look forward to doing this on a somewhat frequent basis, and making sure that what I'm doing in my job, in serving the American public, is relevant to you, who -- are -- the American public. Please keep the questions coming, keep the dialogue going with me, and help me get started on the right foot, and going fast.
Please honor Earth Day today, think about what you might be able to do today to make the Earth just a little bit better place, a little cleaner place. Maybe turn off a few more lights than usual, ride your bike, or do some walking instead of jumping in a vehicle.
This week, if you have an opportunity, go out and visit one of our national parks, it won't cost you anything this week. If you can't do it this week, we hope that you'll go to the vast lands of the Department of the Interior, from the BLM to the Fish and Wildlife Service, to the national parks and beyond, to enjoy America's great outdoors. I hope to see you on the trail. Thank you very much.