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EPA Secretary Jewell's 'Course Corrections' Could Impact Energy Development

The United States needs "a major course correction" in its approach to conservation, according to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who on Tuesday outlined a long-term overview and plans for the rest of the year which include reviews of previous land use decisions.

Speaking at the National Geographic Society during National Park Week, Jewell recommended several "course corrections," including "thinking big" when protecting ecosystems.

She hopes to complete this year the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, an effort to protect and conserve desert ecosystems in 22 million acres in California while also encouraging wind and solar projects in the same area.

Other efforts on the front burner include Master Leasing Plans "where we are collaborating with local stakeholders to develop a blueprint for balancing energy development with conservation and outdoor recreation," (see Shale DailyAug. 18, 2015Aug. 26, 2015), finalizing the Bureau of Land Management's Planning 2.0 rule (see Daily GPIFeb. 12), and a comprehensive review of the federal coal program, Jewell said.

And, she said, "we also have some work left to reexamine whether decisions made in prior administrations properly considered where it makes sense to develop and where it doesn't, or where science is helping us better understand the value of the land and water and potential impacts of development."

Past decisions on Badger Two-Medicine in Montana, the Boundary Waters in Minnesota and the Roan Plateau in Colorado are among those to be reviewed, she said.

"These are special areas, and I look forward to making progress on them this year."

As to her overall vision, "we know that healthy, intact ecosystems are fundamental to the health of our wildlife -- and our nation. They clean our air and provide our drinking water, they store carbon and combat climate change, and they are critical to our economy,” Jewell added. “But if their integrity is undermined by a haphazard web of transmission lines, pipelines and roads, where does that leave us 50 years from now? Or 500? It's an issue that can't be solved by simply creating a new national park or wildlife refuge -- although there's no doubt that we need those places to serve as critical anchors for conservation.

"What we need is smart planning, on a landscape-level, irrespective of manmade lines on a map. We need to take a holistic look at an ecosystem -- on land or in the ocean -- to determine where it makes sense to develop, where it makes sense to protect the natural resources, and where we can accomplish both.

"This isn't a pie-in-the-sky idea. We need look no further than the greater sage grouse conservation effort to see what's possible when people work together across a landscape."

In a milestone decision that the energy industry, state political leaders and environmentalists supported, the Obama administration in September agreed to protect the greater sage grouse with public-private conservation programs at the state level and not through listing of the ground-dwelling bird under the Endangered Species Act (see Daily GPISept. 22, 2015). It amounted to the largest land conservation effort ever undertaken, Jewell said at the time.

"I'm not suggesting that this was an easy task," she said Tuesday. "It wasn't, by any stretch of the imagination. But the epic collaboration did result in a thoughtful, science-based roadmap for a healthy ecosystem and sustainable development across a landscape.

“That's the model for the future of conservation. That big-picture, roll-up-your-sleeves, get-input-from-all-stakeholders kind of planning is how land management agencies should orient themselves in the 21st century. That's why, this year, I look forward to getting a number of things across the finish line to cement the forward-thinking path we have embarked upon."

Jewell also announced that the Commerce Department's Department of Bureau of Economic Analysis plans to analyze the impact outdoor recreation has on the nation's economy.

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