Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Thursday called on Congress to move past partisan bickering and fully fund the nation’s parks and wildlife refuges, invoking Teddy Roosevelt’s call to conservation as a "moral issue."
Delivering her first major address in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Jewell chided lawmakers who support the partial government shutdown then criticized the National Park Service for closing cherished monuments.
“The real test of whether you support conservation is not what you say in a press conference when the cameras are rolling,” she said, “but whether you fight for it in the budget conference.”
Jewell took office in April and faced a 5% across-the-board sequestration cut in the budgets of the agencies she oversees. In her speech she noted plans in the House of Representatives to cut national parks funding by 13% and trim more than a third of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget.
She called out Congress for failing to add a single acre of public land to the park or wilderness systems in three years, saying that the country needs a comprehensive public lands package. “We cannot and will not hold our breath forever,” Jewell said.
She also announced an initiative to help young people connect to public lands, laying out a plan that by 2017 will: create outdoor recreational opportunities for 10 million youths in 50 cities, provide educational opportunities for 10 million elementary students, add 1 million volunteers to parks and refuges, and offer work and training opportunities for 100,000 young people.
Beyond conservation, Jewell emphasized the need for a “smart, balanced approach” to energy development on public lands. A former engineer with energy giant Mobil, Jewell said she supports the Obama administration’s goal of approving 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2020.
Much of that energy production is taking place in California with large-scale solar plants filling in the desert, a leasing rush that has raised environmental concerns.