Jewell: Developing energy resources while protecting public lands is possible

The need for balance is important when developing renewable energy sources on public lands, and developing a “landscape-level understanding” of the public lands under its control will aid the Department of the Interior (DOI) in siting energy facilities in areas where the impact would be the lowest, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said during an online web chat Sept. 25.

During the broadcast to promote the upcoming National Public Lands Day, Jewell detailed some of the ways DOI can balance energy development with the conservation of public lands.

“It’s complicated, but balance is important and we’re committed to both,” Jewell told approximately 600 online viewers. “There are places where nobody would want to see development. You can think of some of the iconic spots around the country – the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite – but also places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which the President has made clear is not for energy development.”

Other areas, however, can support energy development. Jewell referred to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, where she said DOI is working closely with indigenous communities as well as the state, to open a portion of the area for energy development.

Noting that powering the future “in new ways” is one of DOI’s roles, Jewell credited her predecessor, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and his team for facilitating renewable energy projects and permitting 13 GW of renewable energy since 2009 on public land.

“These are projects that can really help power ourselves into the future with renewable energy sources, and they’re being done in ways that really pay attention to … the conservation ideals on the landscape,” she said.

Jewell, whose was sworn in as secretary on April 12, said one of the priorities for the department under her leadership will be to develop a more through understanding of the lands under DOI stewardship by taking what she called a “landscape-level” approach.

“That is, really understanding where are the resources, where are the sacred sites that are important to our nation’s first people, where are the areas that are critical habitat,” Jewell said.

Additional granular detail will enable DOI to focus its energy development “on areas where the conflict is lower, and we can help prioritize those areas that are really special because we understand them and can set them aside,” she said.

In sum, Jewell said she believes energy development and conservation need not be mutually exclusive.

“We don’t think it has to be a trade-off; we think we can have both [protected public lands and energy development],” she said.