Summary Judgement

Change at Interior Dept.? Jewell’s Actions Dash Hope

Early on Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell was welcomed with bipartisan enthusiasm. She is a petroleum engineer who spent: a few years working for a major energy company in the Oklahoma oil patch; 19 years as a commercial banker; and, over a decade as an executive with REI, finally as its CEO. To find a secretary with a similar life-long business background, one must go back to Ethan A. Hitchcock (1899 to 1907). In his early sixties Hitchcock left business for his first presidential appointment; Jewell did so in her late fifties. Today, however, Secretary Jewell has lost her luster.

Secretary Jewell’s first episode of political thuggery was her ham-handed attempt to silence those who dissent from the received wisdom on climate change. She warned Interior employees, “I hope there are no climate change deniers in the Department of Interior.” The former engineer, who should be used to scholarly disagreement, did not say “skeptics,” “dissenters,” or “doubters,” but “deniers,” a pejorative linked to the Holocaust.

Her timing is odd. Climate change orthodoxy began collapsing in November 2009 with the release of data from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Weeks before her comments, The Economist, long alarmist on the subject, wrote “Over the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar.” Days ago, three prominent scientists faulted the promotion of “scary scenarios as if they were forecasts,” noting they are “neither forecasts nor the product of a validated forecasting method.”

In another political call, Secretary Jewell forged ahead with plans to regulate hydraulic fracturing. Days ago thousands of comments were filed, most of which were in opposition, including those from energy producing States, which have been regulating the activity for decades. In a bit of irony given Secretary Jewell’s pledge to respect tribal sovereignty, the strongest opposition came from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

States, tribes, and energy groups argue the rules address a remote, speculative, and totally non-existent harm; one association called them, “a solution in search of a problem.” They are duplicative, vague, and unduly burdensome, impose financial burdens on the States, ensure delays, including endless litigation by environmentalists after the BLM issues permits, and generate additional costs for the energy industry and hence the American public. The Western Energy Alliance says the cost to 13 States will exceed $345 million annually and cost $100,000 per well.
These two issues-involving matters of scientific integrity and potential energy self-sufficiency-pale by comparison with actions by the National Park Service (NPS). In October, the agency whose employees were once the proud protectors of and friendly facilitators of visitors to America’s beautiful and historic places became the service that barred veterans, their survivors, families, and friends from access to national war memorials.

At Mount Vernon, the NPS kept visitors from the privately owned home of George Washington and, elsewhere across the country, the NPS closed or sought to close or bar access to private facilities located on or accessed via federal land. In South Dakota, the NPS blocked scenic overlooks with views of Mount Rushmore. In Arizona, access to the Grand Canyon through the town of Tusayan was shut down with devastating effect on private businesses. Finally, in Wyoming, at Yellowstone National Park, a tour group was locked in a hotel under armed NPS guard.

Reporters fault the NPS or even the NPS’s career director; however, that is not where the blame lies. The NPS has its faults but it zealously protects its reputation for non-partisan professionalism. The speed with which the NPS moved, its attempt to inconvenience the maximum number of people, and its expenditures of additional time, money, and material demonstrate that the order came, not from the NPS Director, but from the Office of the Secretary and likely Secretary Jewell herself. So much for “hope and change” at Obama’s Interior Department.
Mr. Pendley, a Wyoming ­attor­ney, is President and Chief Legal ­Officer of Mountain States Legal Foundation and a regular ­­c­olum­nist in ­Loggers World.