Interior Secretary Jewell Adapts To Her New Role

May 24, 2013

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made her first public return to the Northwest with a stop in Portland this week.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell
Credit Northwest News Network

It’s been six weeks since the Senate confirmed Sally Jewell as Interior Secretary. Washington D.C., she says, is hot and sticky. She’s living in a row house with flower pots on the roof. And yes, she misses the Cascades.

“Oh totally, are you kidding me?" Jewell says. "I’ve been to some lovely mountains in the east. It’s just that they used to be taller than the mountains in the west, but they got worn off.”

Jewell came to Portland to announce roughly $4 million in grants to give young people summer jobs in conservation and trail building work. Working with your hands, Jewell says, creates a lasting feeling of stewardship over the land.

“So give me one more big thanks for the young people up here and the people who are doing the work and giving the money.”

As Interior Secretary, Jewell is now the county’s top steward of more than 700 million acres of forest, rangeland, and offshore oil and gas leases controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM.

But during a short press conference, she revealed little about how she will strike a balance between conservation and energy development on those lands.

Jewell’s portfolio includes vast reserves of federal coal on BLM land in Wyoming and Montana. Those federal coal leases have sparked controversy after companies have proposed building new terminals in the Northwest to export the coal to Asia.

“The coal export issue goes well beyond just the resource part that we have, and I think that public engagement is very important in that process to understand what all the issues are so they can be out on the table and transparently discussed," Jewell says. 

Jewell ended the press conference after just four questions. She was eager to pick up a shovel and lend a hand removing invasive grasses from the Oak’s Bottom Wildlife Refuge.

“I feel kind of silly with all these cameras on me," she says. "Can’t I just pull weeds?”

It started to rain, but that, Secretary Jewell seemed used to. 

Copyright 2013 Oregon Public Broadcasting