Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell called protesters with the national "Keep It in the Ground" campaign "naïve," on the grounds that their calls for an immediate shift to renewable energy sources is impossible, and that technological advances in the sector, while progressing, are still many years away.

Jewell was one of several federal officials present for last week's designation of three new national monuments in California. The monuments -- Castle Mountains, Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow -- will connect the Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree National Park, the San Bernardino National Forest and 15 wilderness acres previously designated by Congress.

During a videotaped interview with The Desert Sun, Jewell conceded that while "fossil fuels are part of the problem, we are also highly dependent [on them]."

Jewell then told the reporter for the Palm Springs, CA-based newspaper that in California, "many miles are driven every day. We don't yet have solar-powered cars. But the technology is moving forward quickly, [and] the price of renewables is coming down.

"We are waking up as a nation to the impact of climate change and the impact of carbon on our environment. As politicians at all levels come together as policymakers [and] take the steps that we can, we will transition ourselves from a fossil-fuel dependent economy to an economy where we are not as dependent. It's going to take a very long time before we can wean from fossil fuels.

"I think that 'Keep It in the Ground' is naïve. To say we can shift to 100% renewables is naïve. We really have to have a blend over time and a transition over time that recognizes the real complexity of what we're dealing with."

Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), told NGI that “it was good to see a responsible, adult response to the juvenile demands of the Keep It in the Ground movement.

“Wind and solar only provide a small amount of electricity, and do virtually nothing for transportation, home heating, manufacturing and other energy needs, not to mention that oil and natural gas provide feedstock for plastics, pharmaceuticals, electronics and many other goods,” Sgamma said Monday.

“I would also add that Jewell mentioned the realities of modern life, but didn’t mention that increased use of natural gas has provided more greenhouse gas emissions reductions than solar and wind combined. So not only are oil and natural gas enabling a healthy, safe modern life, but are also providing significant climate change benefits.”

Protesters with the Keep It in the Ground campaign attempted to disrupt oil and gas lease sales being held by the DOI's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Lakewood, CO, in February, and in Reno, NV, in March (see Daily GPIMarch 9Feb. 12). Last September, a list of environmental groups and individuals totaling 19 pages -- including many from the aforementioned campaign -- sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to end federal leasing (see Daily GPISept. 14, 2015).

On Monday, the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) -- which supports the Keep It in the Ground campaign -- sent a letter to three federal officials, including Jewell and BLM Director Neil Kornze, urging them to not issue leases from an oil and gas lease sale held last month for more than 2,300 acres in Kansas and Oklahoma. The objection centered on concern that oil and gas activities there could lead to an increase in seismic activity, which has been an ongoing problem (see Shale DailyApril 21).

"It's clear that these man-made practices are increasing the amount of earthquake activity near and around drilling sites," said CBD spokeswoman Wendy Park. "These dangerous seismic risks to communities are yet another reason for keeping dirty federal fossil fuels in the ground."

The debate over fossil fuels, and especially hydraulic fracturing (fracking), has also become a topic in this year's Democratic presidential primaries. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has called for a nationwide ban on fracking, a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, and co-sponsored legislation to, among other things, prohibit new leases for exploration and production in the offshore Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Gulf of Mexico (see Shale DailyApril 15).

Obama designated the three desert areas as new national monuments earlier this year. Collectively, the three parks cover about 1.8 million acres and include parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. They will be managed by two DOI agencies -- the BLM and the National Park Service -- as well as the Department of Agriculture's U.S. Forest Service.