11 vote against Interior secretary

May 13, 2013

Both Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, Wyoming’s two U.S. senators, were among 11 Republicans to vote last month against Sally Jewell’s nomination as Interior secretary. Eighty-seven other senators voted to confirm her on April 10.

As Interior secretary, succeeding Colorado’s Ken Salazar, Jewell oversees an $11.5 billion annual budget, 70,000 federal employees and nearly 30 percent of the entire U.S. land mass, including national parks and wildlife refuges. Interior’s policies also impact live stock grazing and oil and gas drilling on public lands.

Jewell is the 51st Interior secretary and the second woman to hold the post after Gale Norton, who served from 2001 to 2006 in George W. Bush’s administration.

Other senators in the slim minority to vote against President Barack Obama’s nominee were GOP Sens. Mike Lee, Utah; Tom Coburn, Oklahoma; Mitch McConnell, Kentucky; Marco Rubio, Florida; Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer, both of Nebraska; Tim Scott, South Carolina; David Vitter, Louisiana, and Saxby Chambliss, Georgia.

Prior to her confirmation, Jewell served as president and chief executive officer of Recreation Equipment, Inc. in Seattle. Before joining REI in 2000, she spent 19 years as a commercial banker after working as a Mobil Oil Corp. petroleum engineer. She and her husband have two grown children.

“Senator Enzi was concerned with Ms. Jewell’s inadequate responses to questions posed to her by some of the members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee,” Daniel Head, Enzi’s press secretary, told the Western Livestock Journal.

“He also had concerns with her affiliation with groups that engage in activities to shut down multiple use on public lands and efforts to limit public access to national parks.”

Barrasso, the Cowboy State’s junior U.S. senator, stated: “As head of the Interior Department, Ms. Jewell’s decisions will have far-reaching and lasting impact on jobs, local communities and the  economy of Wyoming. While I wish Ms. Jewell well in her new job, I voted against her nomination because I remain concerned with her commitment to multiple use of public lands in light of her prior record.”

Barrasso said he looks forward to working with Jewell on critical issues affecting the future success of Wyoming and the U.S.

“Although I had hoped the nominee would clarify discrepancies in past positions during the committee consideration process, the nominee refused to address them in a substantive way.”

Utah’s Lee voted no on Jewell’s nomination during a mark-up for the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“The Secretary of the Interior exercises enormous influence and power over the daily lives of Utahns. The decisions made at the Department of the Interior impact our economy and citizens in significant ways,” Lee stated, adding he was required to hold her to a very high standard because of her sweeping authority.

“These decisions determine whether families can continue to use roads to reach hunting areas that have been used for generations or whether ranchers can continue to graze cattle on land that they have used for decades.”

Lee said Jewell was an impressive candidate and her experience as a CEO was solid, adding he would work with her on critical issues impacting Utah and the nation.

“However, her experience in public land policy involves active participation in organizations that continually sue to restrict access to public land and prevent development of natural resources in Utah and across the West. Her public land policy experience raised serious questions that were not adequately addressed …”

In an April 30 letter to Jewell, Oklahoma’s Coburn outlined areas of unnecessary spending despite federal sequestration at the Interior department, including programs pertaining to drones, sheep studies and beaver conferences. He demanded a response by May 14.

Coburn criticized a March 1 Interior Department video for sensationalizing potential “devastating” impacts of sequestration, warning national parks would suffer from reduced hours of operation, shorter seasons and possible closures of campgrounds, hiking trails and other recreational areas. The U.S. Geological Survey also threatened to shut down hundreds of flood warning gauges.

“A good place to start is with simply setting priorities and complying with sequestration by cutting lower priority spending and stopping new spending to ensure our parks remain open and flood gauges are maintained,” Coburn wrote.

The Oklahoma lawmaker noted the USGS was planning to expand its use of unmanned aerial drones, obtained from the military, to survey pygmy rabbits in Idaho, elk in Washington and sheep in Nevada. Since sequestration took effect on March 1, the National Park Service has announced the designation of 13 new national historic landmarks and three new national monuments.

Coburn urged that Interior stop designating new parks and monuments, stop expanding existing parks and halt unneeded travel and conferences. In 2012, the department spent $7.8 million hosting or sending participants to 32 conferences, each costing more than $100,000. He also urged Jewell to stop upgrading “the vehicle fleet for bureaucrats” and quit maintaining unneeded offices.

Coburn said the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must explore more cost-efficient alternatives to controlling the population of wild horses and burros. The BLM’s wild horse program’s budget has nearly doubled since 2008 to nearly $80 million in 2013. An estimated 62,000 horses and burros are maintained in temporary corrals and on private pastures.

“As a result of this program, more wild horses are living in captivity than in the wild. The program is not just rounding up horses, but also taxpayers’ dollars,” Coburn wrote.

Jewell said Tuesday, May 7, that she still has not decided about how to handle the burgeoning wild horse and burro population that is consuming more than half the BLM’s horse budget and sparking outrage among wild horse advocates. She said she is awaiting a National Academy of Sciences study set to be issued in early June to determine how best to handle the horses.

There are more wild horses and burros roaming federally managed ranges today than in 1971 when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act that protects the animals. There are 11,000 more than the range is supposed to sustain and another 51,000 holding in expensive corrals and pastures.

Horse populations can double every four years, but wild horse adoptions hit an all-time low of 2,500 last year, down from 5,700 in 2005. Wild horse advocates have launched a lobbying campaign this year on Capitol Hill to push for change.

They want more horses on free range than in holding cells, and they believe the government should invest more in their birth control.

At Jewell’s confirmation hearing, four senators—two Democrats and two Republicans—questioned Interior’s handling of the wild horse program, saying the BLM consistently has failed to live up to its own management goals. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent