Nominee for the Position of
Deputy Secretary of the
United States Department of the Interior
Energy and Natural Resources Committee
United States Senate
March 12, 2009
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Murkowski, and members of the Committee. I am honored to be with you today as President Barack Obama's nominee as Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior. I am joined by my wife, Elizabeth, and two of my children—Kate and Molly. My son, Stephen, is a college student on the west coast, and he unfortunately cannot be here today.
With your indulgence, I would like to begin with a short, personal introduction that helps to explain why I am here today. I grew up in western New York State. Both of my parents were from small towns in the countryside outside of Rochester, New York. They met after World War II at a dance hall on Conesus Lake—one of the Finger Lakes in New York State that is south of Rochester. They married and raised my three sisters and me in Rochester. But even though they had moved to the city to find work, my parents always remained true to their small town roots, and their love of the rolling hills and beautiful lakes of upstate New York. In the early 1950s, they bought a modest log cabin cottage on the same Conesus Lake where they met, and where my mom had spent her summers growing up with her family. Thanks to the log cabin, my sisters and I were able to repeat the experience. We spent all of our summers together on Conesus Lake—swimming, fishing and just being a family. My parents have since passed on, but my sisters and I still own that same log cabin, and now Liz and our kids make a pilgrimage to lake country in western New York every summer to repeat the simple joys of being together, in a beautiful place, with family and friends.
After high school, I went to college in the Midwest, in Indiana, and then I continued west to California, where I attended law school. My cross-country trips to and from California introduced me to the wonders of our nation that lay beyond the Finger Lakes, Niagara Falls, and the sand dunes on the south shore of Lake Michigan. These formative experiences prompted me to dedicate my career to energy, environmental and natural resources issues. That pull toward natural and cultural resource issues has become my life's work, both in and out of government, and through my academic and non-profit work.
In that regard, and perhaps most pertinently to this Committee, I was fortunate enough to have served for four years in the Department of the Interior—the last two as Deputy Secretary—in the Clinton Administration. I worked with many of you on the Committee during that period, and I thoroughly enjoyed the privilege of tackling the many important and challenging issues that arise within the vast domain of the Interior Department.
I am extraordinarily grateful that President Obama and Secretary Salazar have asked me to serve at the outset of this new Administration as the Deputy Secretary—the second highest ranking official in the Department and, by statute, its Chief Operating Officer. If confirmed, I can assure you that I will take on this challenge with seriousness of purpose and total commitment to the task at hand. As you know very well, the Interior Department deals with issues that matter greatly. The Interior Department makes decisions every day that implicate our stewardship responsibilities over the land and water resources of this great nation. And all of the issues that the Department touches affect our fellow Americans.
Because of the weighty responsibility associated with managing the Interior Department's responsibilities, I approach my prospective position with deep humility and a commitment to work collaboratively with you, the Department's fine career staff, and with all key stakeholders who are affected by the Department's programs. My first choice—always—is to look hard for collaboratively-based approaches to decision making. I pride myself in solving problems, and in seeking solutions that advance the interests of all interested parties.
In that regard, if confirmed, I am looking forward to working with Secretary Salazar and our team, in close collaboration with this Committee, to expand the portfolio of energy that is produced from the public resources that are under the Interior Department's jurisdiction. As the nation's largest landowner, including lands with enormous solar, wind and geothermal potential, the Interior Department is in a unique position to greatly expand renewable, domestically-produced energy production in the United States. In tandem with the Department's continued production of oil, gas, coal and other energy sources, increased production of renewable energy is a key element of the ''moon shot'' on energy independence that the President and Secretary Salazar are so committed to taking. Interior Department landholdings also will play an indispensible role in expanding the electric grid and bringing renewable energy from the sunny southwest and the windy plains to our population centers.
As with all other Interior Department issues, developing renewable energy on the public lands will require a balanced approach that addresses the impacts of such development on wildlife, water resources and other interests. History has taught us that when it comes to our public lands, we must proceed with care, for we have a responsibility to take a long-term view as we manage these lands for the benefit of all Americans, including future generations that will follow.
In addition to devoting substantial attention to energy issues, I expect to give special attention, if confirmed, to the issue of how climate change is impacting our water, land, and wildlife resources. Given the Interior Department's vast land base, its statutory obligations to address wildlife issues, and its responsibilities as the largest water wholesaler in the western United States, Interior must be at the forefront of our efforts to understand how climate change is affecting our resources, and to anticipate and react to these impacts. With the substantial scientific capabilities of the United States Geological Survey, the Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, Interior is well-positioned to lead this vitally important work, and to do so in partnership with state and local land and water managers, and ordinary citizens, who are concerned about the effects that climate change are having on their resources. In that regard, I hope that the Interior Department can also bring good news to Americans on the climate change front. Our forests, rangelands and open spaces are providing climate change benefits—day in and day out—as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We need to tell this story, and help Americans understand how their support for parks, wildlife habitat, wetlands, and other natural landscapes is helping to address our climate change challenge by removing excess heat-trapping gases from the atmosphere.
I also look forward to working with you, if I am confirmed, as we invest in the many national treasures that the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish & Wildlife Service oversee. While I share the affinity that all Americans have for our magnificent and iconic national parks in the west, I am an equally strong supporter of the parks, monuments and refuges in the east, midwest, and south, and the many historical sites that are under our trust—from Constitutional Hall and the Liberty Bell to our Civil War battlefields. And I am a firm believer that we must give more attention to our urban parks and to the lakes and rivers that run through our cities and countryside and that so many people enjoy. I believe that we should be mindful of our responsibility to provide opportunities for all Americans to enjoy God's bounty that surround us—regardless of where we live.
Finally, if I am fortunate enough to receive your endorsement, I look forward to working closely with Native Americans who look first to the Interior Department to work with them on a government-to-government basis. We must honor our trust obligation to the tribes. This is an obligation, and a challenge, that I accept without hesitation. During my first tour of duty at the Interior Department, I worked closely with many tribes on a broad range of issues, and I look forward to continuing that work in the months and years ahead.
Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to responding to your questions.