Speech: Remarks of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar All-Employee Town Hall Meeting

Last edited 09/29/2021

Main Interior Building - Yates Auditorium

Good afternoon.

Thank you, Laura. Thank you to everyone who is here today. And thanks to everyone who is watching around the country.

Before I begin, I want to briefly recognize everyone in the Department, particularly in the United States Geological Survey, who has been helping respond to the tragic earthquake in Haiti. Our thoughts and prayers today are with the people of Haiti. And we will do everything we can to support the Administration's rescue efforts.

Today, looking out at all of you, I want you to know how proud I am to serve as your Secretary.

At this moment in history, with this President, and with the agenda we have ahead of us, I would rather be Secretary of the Interior than anything else in the world.

Almost one year ago, nearly two million Americans gathered together on the Mall here in Washington – amid the cold and the crowds – to witness the swearing in of a new president, Barack Obama, who believes, as I believe, in our ability as a people to rise to the tests we confront… to change what must be changed… and to form a more perfect union.

The belief that we can leave our world better than we found it is why we are called to public service. It's why all of us are here at Interior.

I know this because I have traveled many miles over the last year and met many of you in Albuquerque and the Apostle Islands, Billings and Bismarck, Pelican Island and Palm Springs.

And though I have not met every one of you in person, I do hear from you, and I know you hear from me. I know you get my emails. And I appreciate your responses.

Every day, I hear incredible stories of Interior's public servants who go above and beyond to help deliver change.

They are employees like Kim Dryden, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who, for 13 years, has poured herself into the historic Picayune Strand Restoration Project in southwest Florida.

Her hard work has paid off. Last Thursday, Assistant Secretary Tom Strickland and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Sam Hamilton joined her to break ground on the 55,000 acre project – a cornerstone of our efforts to restore the Everglades.

Let's hear it for Kim and for all the scientists in our department!

We had many stars at Interior this year, including all of you who are implementing the Recovery Act responsibly and transparently, as President Obama promised.

They are people like Faye Winters with the BLM in Florida. Faye is the project manager for 4 Recovery Act projects at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area.

Like many around the department, Faye assumed her Recovery Act responsibilities on top of everything else she is doing. She knows people are counting on her to get projects under way so people can get to work and bring home a paycheck.

Faye has done a great job, and her work made for an extraordinary 150th anniversary for Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse last weekend.

Let's hear it for Faye and for everyone who is implementing the Recovery Act!

We also have heroes throughout the department.

When record floods hit the Dakotas last spring, Interior employees – people like Duane Krogstad and Mike Marohl of Reclamation - were on the spot.

Duane and Mike worked on-site at the Jamestown Dam over forty days straight without rest. They and their team saved lives and property.

And when fires hit California this year, people like Sue Cannon, a USGS landslide scientist, were there to help. Sue and her team were on the ground for nine major fires, delivering critical emergency assessments of debris-flow hazards to help emergency managers, land managers, and the weather service plan, react, and recover.

Kim, Faye, Sue, Duane, and Mike are illustrating how, in so many ways and so many places, our work is making a difference.

It is making a difference from American Samoa, where the Office of Insular Affairs is helping tsunami recovery efforts, and Haiti, where USGS scientists have been supplying critical data about the catastrophic earthquake, to right here in Washington, DC, with the remarkable service of the Park Police.

They are all heroes, and I could not be more proud of this Interior team.

So let's give a hand to everyone who helped keep us safe, who responded to a crisis, and who made great sacrifices this year! Thank you!

For all of us at Interior, 2009 was a year of tremendous accomplishment, but it was also a year of great challenge on personal and professional levels.

The recession has had a deep and personal effect on many Interior families. Some employees' spouses lost jobs. Two incomes shrank to one. College tuition, house payments, and retirement may all be looking more difficult.

As fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, we must tend to the needs of family first.

And I hope that your career at Interior is a source of strength and security for your families.

But our jobs, of course, are far more than the paycheck earned or the hours worked.

For it is at times when our nation is tested that we feel the greatest urge to help others. And it is in these moments when our service feels most rewarding.

President Obama is counting on each of us to give our best. And the agenda he has outlined for Interior gives us each a role to play in the American recovery and renewal.

With the president's leadership, and with the terrific team we now have in place, we are all pulling the oars together and steering our nation out of the storm. Today, after just one year, we are moving - as one DOI - in a new direction.

I have assembled a report that summarizes our first year of work at Interior under the Obama Administration. It does not include every milestone or achievement, but it hits the highlights.

In my work as your Secretary, I see the Department as the custodian of our nation's natural resources and the custodian of our history.

We have some copies of the report here in the auditorium for you. They are also available online at doi.gov. I hope you will spend a few minutes reading through it.

The report is organized by the six areas on which we have focused in the last year:

  • First: fighting to protect the places that Americans love;
  • Second: building a clean energy economy and tackling the impacts of climate change;
  • Third: working to do right by Indian Nations and supporting island communities;
  • Fourth: connecting our kids with the outdoors, so that they, too, can fall in love with our land, water, and wildlife;
  • Fifth: finding consensus and solutions to the water challenges our country faces;
  • And finally: changing how Interior does business, strengthening ethics standards, and improving our service to the American people.

We are making progress in each of these areas.

Soon after being sworn in, President Obama signed sweeping conservation legislation protecting America's great outdoors.

With a stroke of the pen, the president created 2 million new acres of wilderness, added more than a thousand miles of rivers to the National Wild and Scenic River System, and authorized three new national parks, four new national conservation areas, and one new national monument.

The legislation was a terrific start for the Obama Administration's conservation legacy.

To build on it, we have invested $3 billion in America's landscapes through the Recovery Act.

We have also reopened the crown of the Statue of Liberty, broken ground on the Flight 93 Memorial, and made great strides in restoring the Everglades, the Chesapeake Bay, the Klamath River, the Great Lakes, and other treasured landscapes.

I'm proud that we have restored the role of science in decision-making. Section 7 consultations are back. So, too, are brown pelicans in the Gulf and gray wolves in Idaho and Montana.

The polar bear has a proposed critical habitat in Alaska and we have laid out a plan to restore the health of wild horse herds and their ranges.

We have built the Department of the Interior's first-ever coordinated strategy for confronting the impacts of climate change on America's resources, thanks in large measure to David Hayes's leadership.

We have also begun to rewrite mountaintop mining rules to better protect Appalachian streams and communities.

We engaged as a full partner with the state of California to tackle the drought and the enormously complex water crisis they are experiencing.

And on the Colorado River, we are establishing a new water flow protocol for Grand Canyon National Park.

We have also made progress in our efforts to honor the federal government's responsibilities to Indian nations.

In November, we hosted a White House Tribal Nations Conference with President Obama and more than 400 leaders of federally recognized tribes.

We are working with the Department of Justice to strengthen law enforcement in Indian Country, and with the Department of Education to improve schools.

And - after 13 long years of litigation - we have reached a settlement of the Cobell lawsuit.

On the energy front, we have been hard at work to change how we do business and build a comprehensive energy plan for the country.

In the last year, we offered new areas for oil and gas development, but instituted reforms to ensure we are offering leases in the right places and in the right way.

Importantly, we also opened a new energy frontier on America's lands and oceans that will help power our clean energy economy. For the first time ever, environmentally responsible renewable energy development is a priority at this Department.

Long-awaited offshore renewable energy rules are now in place.

With other federal agencies, we have cleared out red tape on renewable energy and transmission permitting.

We have mapped out 1,000 square miles in the Southwest as solar energy study areas.

And we are fast-tracking solar and wind projects that can get up-and-running quickly.

We expect that of the solar and wind projects currently proposed, more than 5,300 megawatts of new capacity could be ready for construction by the end of 2010 - enough to power almost 1.6 million homes. And project construction will create over 48,000 jobs.

We have accomplished many things in one year, and more work is under way.

And to get it all done, we have restored budgets that had been in sharp decline since 2001. Thanks to Rhea Suh, Pam Haze, and the many people in the department who work on the budget.

And just as the budget takes a great deal of time to develop, we must recognize that each milestone we reached in the last year is the culmination of months – and often years – of work at all levels of this department. We have reason to be proud of each and every milestone.

But our work in the first year of the Obama Administration is more than the sum of the parts.

It is about a new approach - a practical approach - to the problems we face.

On Interior's issues, there is rarely an easy solution. There is almost never one answer. And that which works today, may not work tomorrow.

That's why we must always be open to new ideas. We must adapt our thinking. We must engage the public. And we must study, learn, and apply the best science at hand.

This spirit of pragmatism – and a respect for science – is back at all levels of Interior.

The work of the first year reflects a new way of doing business.

In a larger sense, though, it also reflects a set of values that Americans want us to uphold but which have too often been forgotten in recent years.

As custodians of our nation's natural, cultural, and historic resources, we have a duty to protect the places that Americans love, and to help all Americans connect with their land and heritage.

And while icons like Yellowstone and the Grand Staircase-Escalante are in good hands, many special places beyond our boundaries are quickly disappearing.

Every year, Americans lose 3 million acres of land – an area the size of Connecticut – to development. And as the places we love disappear, so do our connections with the land.

They are the places Americans knew as children. The places we hunt and hike. The places we picnic as a family. The places we unplug and unwind.

Half as many kids get outside today as they did ten years ago. Sixty percent of Americans do not get the recommended amount of exercise. And one-third of adults are not physically active at all.

Our job at Interior is not merely to wisely manage the public's resources … to ensure, for example, that solar, wind, oil and gas development happens in the right places on public lands.

Our job is also to help Americans reconnect with the places they know and that fuel our spirit. That's why we are expanding youth programs throughout the Department. And it's why we need to reach out to audiences who have never visited their public lands.

But to connect people with their lands, we also must tie the American landscape back together. We can no longer imagine a national park as insulated or isolated from the lands around it. Climate change, habitat fragmentation, and development require us to break old habits and think beyond our usual boundaries.

That's why we must seek new partnerships with private landowners, state and local governments, and tribes as we build a landscape-scale approach to conservation. We must inspire, encourage, and support from the local level. And we must listen.

We must remember this because, in the end, stewardship can be deeply personal. It's not just about the beauty of the world around us, but about our relationship with it.

It's about the places we know, and the experiences we've had there.

For me, the place I love most is my family's ranch in the San Luis Valley.

It's the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the east and the San Juans in the west. It's the San Antonio River that flows through our land, and the birds that pass overhead.

We each have places like these about which we care deeply. All Americans do.

Our challenge is to inspire people to rediscover the lands they love, and to engage them in their stewardship and protection.

And Americans, I believe, are eager to respond.

They want more trails, more parks, and more open spaces. They want more time together as families. And more chances to connect with one another.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “He who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man.”

Yes, the American renewal is about jobs and a return to economic growth, but it's also about how we refuel our spirit. It's about remembering the values we share. And it's about reconnecting with the places and stories that set America apart.

I am excited about the year ahead because I know Interior is well suited to lead in this renewal.

With your work, President Barack Obama's leadership, and the passion we share for what we do, there is no limit to what we can achieve together.

Thank you.

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