Interior Secretary Orders ‘Right Balance’ of Energy Development on Public Lands

By Penny Starr | November 1, 2013 | 9:48 AM EDT

President Barack Obama listens as his Interior Secretary nominee, REI Chief Executive Officer Sally Jewell speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

( – Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Thursday announced a “mitigation strategy” for development projects, including natural gas and oil production, on public lands.

It was her first formal “secretarial order” since taking the job.

“Today we have an unprecedented opportunity – using science and technology to create a better understanding of landscapes than ever before – to advance important conservation goals and achieve our development objectives together,” Jewell said in a speech at the National Press Club.

She said it’s a question of striking the “right balance” between development and conservation and helping businesses to be “good partners and good stewards” of public lands.

The five-page document, posted on the DOI website, creates a task force that will issue new rules and protocols for developing infrastructure and energy resources on public lands.

Among other things, the order talks about "landscape-level planning," which identifies areas suitable for development because of "low natural and cultural resource conflicts."

“So part of this is encouraging development in the right ways and in the right places,” Jewell said, pointing to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as one of the places that is “too special to develop.”

As an example of a “smart, balanced approach to development,” Jewell pointed to the National Petroleum Reserve, which is more than 22 million acres on Alaska’s North Slope that was set aside by President Warren Harding as a protected source of oil for the nation.

She said the government has decided to “protect more than 13 million acres” of the National Petroleum Reserve, including a key caribou habitat – “while making available for development more than 72 percent of the estimated economically recoverable oil.”

Jewell said that’s the approach that will be used “as we explore new frontiers in the Arctic, as we implement onshore leasing reforms, or as we experience an energy boom in the Bakken Region in North Dakota.”

The secretarial order also mentions the "dramatic effects" of climate change and calls for the development of "landscape-level strategies for understanding and responding to climate change impacts."

Jewell also laid out a plan to “engage” young people in conservation by developing outdoor recreation areas in 55 U.S. cities and creating “classrooms without walls” on public lands for education programs. And she said DOI will ramp up efforts to recruit volunteers to work on public lands.