Summary Judgement: It's still Obama's Department of the Interior

In the 1970 western, Monte Walsh, Lee Marvin plays the title character, a tough cowhand who ekes out a living in the last days of the old west hiring out for anything he can do from a horse. Barbed wire and railroads, however, close up the wide open prairie Walsh loves and condemn cowboys like him to obsolescence. After his partner (Jack Palance) and paramour (Jeanne Moreau) die tragically, Walsh goes on a drinking binge and rides an unbroken steed, destroying main street in the process. The owner of a wild west show watches in amazement and offers Walsh fame and, if not fortune, at least steady pay to wear fancy buckskins and perform for city folks. Walsh refuses with a snarl. “I ain’t gonna spit on my whole life.”

Monte Walsh comes to mind with President Obama’s nomination of Sally Jewell, president and chief executive officer of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), to replace Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior. The media mentions often that the English-born and Seattle-raised Jewell is a mechanical engineer whose first post graduate job was with Mobil Oil in Oklahoma. After three years, Jewell hired on with a bank interested in the oil boom that needed engineers “to understand the value of the collateral in the ground.” That bank was acquired by another; Jewell ran its business-banking activities. In her last role in a 20-year banking career, she led Washington Mutual’s commercial-banking business. In 1996, she joined REI’s board, in 2000 became its chief operating officer and, in 2005, its CEO. Neither Jewell’s engineering degree nor her long ago and limited years in the oil patch define her as Monte Walsh’s cowboying defined him.

That Jewell contributes almost exclusively to Democratic candidates is irrelevant; a president’s nominee should support his party’s views. Of concern, however, is REI’s funding of the Conservation Alliance whose grantees brag of killing energy development in Arizona, Colorado, and Utah, for example. Also worrisome is Jewell’s receipt of the Audubon Society’s Rachel Carson Award for Environmental Conservation, unlikely had she, as an engineer, noted Carson’s sloppy science, obvious overstatements, and dubious documentation, not to mention the human impact of Silent Spring’s inspired DDT ban. Finally, despite the December 2009 collapse of the house of cards that was the purported scientific basis for climate change doomsayers, REI pushes a “climate change” regulatory agenda and Obama, who called her a “climate expert,” would not have nominated her were she a climate change skeptic, let alone a “denier.”

The bottom line is Secretary Jewell serves Obama whose views on oil and gas are well-known, especially since a Wall Street Journal report on his meeting with oilman Harold Hamm. Obama cut short Hamm’s briefing on the revolution in the oil and gas industry, which would enable America to replace OPEC, “[W]e need to go on to green and alternative energy.” Even had Jewell the inclination, let alone knowledge not three decades old, what luck will she have persuading Obama?

Obama brags about the revolution Hamm sought to discuss; however, the majority of hydraulic fracturing occurs on State and private lands (96 percent of the growth in oil production from 2007 to 2010 was on such lands), not federal lands, notwithstanding that the federal government owns a third of the Nation’s onshore acreage. Worse yet, Obama’s Interior wants to require federal approval of fracturing-the activity has been regulated by States for nearly 60 years-at a cost of $1.6 billion annually. Meanwhile, Obama’s Fish and Wildlife Service cites oil and gas operators for the occasional and accidental bird death while ignoring wind energy’s regular avian slaughter. Finally, most of the billion acres the federal government owns on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is closed to energy development.

The frequency with which Jewell’s oil patch days are mentioned demonstrates an eternal hope that is uniquely American, but at Obama’s Interior, there will be no change.

by: Perry Pendly

Mr. Pendley, a Wyoming ­attor­ney, is President and Chief Legal ­Officer of Mountain States Legal Foundation and a regular ­­c­olum­nist in ­Loggers World.