Alaska Editorial: We need more information on the new interior secretary

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Few federal positions have as much impact on Alaska as that of secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

So it is with much justification that President Obama’s nomination of Sally Jewell to that post should be held with immediate reservation.

Jewell is not well known to the public, unlike the national outdoors retail company she leads — REI.

We need to know much more about her and her positions, particularly on energy development.

Because Jewell is the chief executive officer of a company that is widely known for its association with parks and preservation, it’s natural that the instant reaction to her selection might be one of cheer by conservationists and dismay by those who work in the energy industry.

As is often the case, people are more complex than the portrayal that is hastily assembled about them. In the case of Jewell, it is noteworthy that she does have real knowledge of the energy industry, having worked as an engineer for Mobil Oil Corp. That’s perhaps one reason why the president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents the oil and natural gas industry, said Jewell’s background “will bring a unique perspective to an office that is key to our nation’s energy portfolio.”

We need to hear from Jewell herself, of course. What are her views on offshore oil development? What does she think about opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development? What does she think about development on Bureau of Land Management holdings in Alaska?

The Interior Department is more than oil and gas development, of course. So it’s also fair to ask what she thinks about the condition of our national parks and conservation units, which in many cases are in need of additional maintenance funds. Since the department includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, how knowledgeable is she on matters of interest to Alaska Natives?

Policy comes down from the Oval Office, of course. It’s likely that Jewell wasn’t selected because she holds a host of positions at odds with the president.

Now it’s on to the Senate confirmation process, where we hope Alaska will get to know in detail what to expect of Jewell through the president’s second term in office.

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