In our opinion: An invitation for the new Interior Secretary to visit Utah, discuss public lands

Published: Monday, Feb. 11 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

President Barack Obama listens as his Interior Secretary nominee, REI Chief Executive Officer Sally Jewell speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013.

Associated Press

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Given that two-thirds of this state's land is owned and managed by the federal government, Utah has a vested interest in the president's appointments to the Department of the Interior. Ken Salazar, the departing Secretary of the Interior, was openly hostile to Utah's efforts to tap into its significant energy resources, having canceled 77 long-term oil and gas leases in Utah immediately upon taking office. Following a track record like that, just about anyone President Obama chose to succeed him would likely be an improvement.

That's one of the reasons we're cautiously optimistic about the selection of Sally Jewel as the new Interior Secretary. But, thankfully, it's not the only one. We find it encouraging that she has a background as a petroleum engineer, and that she comes to this position from the world of business, not government. That private sector experience can go a long way toward tempering the predilection for government overreach that characterized Salazar's controversial tenure.

Of course, like any cabinet member, she will serve at the pleasure of the president and reflect the president's priorities. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has repeatedly demonstrated little interest in allowing robust multiple use of public lands. In addition, Jewel has done extensive work for nonprofit organizations that have worked to thwart Utah's shale oil development. We would hope that, upon taking office, she could be persuaded to adopt a more flexible and pragmatic approach to public land management.

The best course would be for the new secretary to make a visit to Utah one of her top priorities, something her predecessor was reluctant to do. In 2009, when Secretary Salazar blocked those 77 leases, Sen. Robert Bennett led a successful filibuster against David Hayes, one of Salazar's chief deputies, in order to force the Interior Secretary to reconsider the lease cancellations and come to Utah to review the situation for himself firsthand. We hope those kinds of measures won't be necessary this time around, and that Jewel will make a concerted effort to understand this state with all its unique challenges and opportunities.

That's why we take this occasion to invite the prospective Interior Secretary to come to Utah and take the time to carefully consider the opinions of Utahns with a stake in how public lands are managed, as well as the recommendations of our elected representatives. We're hopeful she will discover that conservation and energy development do not have to be mutually exclusive concerns.

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