Yesterday, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell delivered an address to the National Press Club in which she focused on the Obama administration’s “conservation agenda.” Rightfully, she talked about what sort of “conservation legacy” the administration seeks to leave for this and future generations. We were heartened to hear about her commitments to good stewardship of our public lands and waters, outdoor education, and renewable resources. It was particularly exciting to hear that the administration takes pride in offering offshore wind leases and will continue to do so.
Secretary Jewell talked extensively about the need for balance between resource development and protection of public lands and waters. She said that the administration will address questions like these on a “landscape” level and announced a secretarial order requiring landscape-level mitigation for public lands and resources affected by development.
She also discussed my home state, Alaska, extolling the new plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska as a model of the balanced approach the administration will take. She made it very clear that the administration supports protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but she did not talk about the Arctic Ocean. There was no mention of Shell’s failed efforts to drill exploration wells in 2012, the government approvals that allowed it to happen, or her agency’s movement—in the face of controversy, litigation, and Shell’s near disaster—toward additional leasing in the Chukchi Sea.
Yesterday, Shell announced that it would pursue scaled-back plans to drill exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea. The way that the Department of the Interior approaches Shell’s proposal will be very telling about the administration’s commitment to conservation. We need baseline scientific information, demonstrated response capacity, and comprehensive planning for the Arctic region. Without a vision—one that describes the Arctic region we want to leave our children and their children, we cannot make good decisions about whether to approve activities like those Shell proposes.
The Department of the Interior’s decision about Shell’s activities is every bit as important to the administration’s “conservation legacy” as decisions about the NPR-A or the Arctic Refuge. A balanced, science-based approach leads inexorably to the conclusion that companies are not prepared and should not be allowed to drill in the Chukchi Sea at this time. We hope that Secretary Jewell and her colleagues will reach the same conclusion.