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 February 08, 2018
No such thing as clean coal

 The Trump administration has brought fun-house distortion to managing America's public lands, from yanking the welcome mat at national parks to making it harder to develop clean energy sources, ex-U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Wednesday night.

"There is no such thing as 'clean coal,'" Jewell told a Seattle City Club audience, mocking the president's pledge to boost the declining fortunes of the coal industry. "He cannot bring it back because it is not economical."

A former CEO at Recreational Equipment Inc., Jewell served as the nation's chief manager of public lands during President Obama's second term.

She initially followed a Cabinet tradition of withholding criticism of one's successor, but her silence was broken with the Trump decision to slash by 85 percent the size of newly created Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

She predicted that the Trump action, which also cut 1 million acres out of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, will "not hold up in court." Presidents of both parties, starting with Republican Theodore Roosevelt, have used the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect natural wonders as well as major cultural and historic sites.

Jewell is about to begin work as a distinguished fellow at the University of Washington, based in the UW's College of the Environment.

Despite inconsequential questions at City Club's Civic Cocktail ("Tell us what you're doing now ... how soon are you coming to the Evans School?"), Jewell managed to deliver a wide-ranging critique of damage being done by the Trump administration.

"What he has done in terms of making the federal government a hard place to work as a climate scientist is really egregious," said Jewell. She detailed how one Interior climate expert has been exiled to a paper-pushing job.

"To say they are hostile to climate science would be an understatement," said Jewell.

The result, Jewell argued, is that America is "not looking at a balanced energy future. We are not talking about weaning ourselves from fossil fuels."

The current Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, recently announced that 90 percent of America's Outer Continental Shelf is being opened to oil and gas leasing.

"It's outrageous what they are doing," Jewell argued. "There are higher and better uses for some of our public lands other than their exploitation." The Obama administration sought to concentrate on finding "low conflict, high potential areas" for energy development.

The West Coast's politicians have reacted with fire and fury -- and lots of hyperbole -- to the drilling plan. Zinke has received letters from governors, from 16 of 18 Washington and Oregon members of Congress, and even from two Republican House members from this state.

Jewell noted that the current five-year offshore drilling plan, developed under President Obama, took three years to develop. The administration faces legal obligations to consult with states, local government and tribes.

"I would not panic over this at all," Jewell said.

Jewell sees race and privilege as major factors in the Trump administration's proposal, put out for public comment, to charge $70 entrance fees at 17 of the nation's most popular national parks. Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks are on the list where visitors would be shaken down.

"It's going to reduce people in the parks. What it says to the underrepresented (visitors), 'You're not welcome here.'"

The National Park Service faces a multi-billion-dollar maintenance backlog across the country. Candidates for president regularly pledge to restore the parks, as future President George W. Bush did in a 2000 speech at Monroe, Washington. President Trump gave his initial paycheck to the Park Service.

The point, said Jewell, is that the parks can't be fixed just by charging visitors a steep fee, especially not when the Park Service is seeking to wean young people away from electronic gadgets -- "you gotta get 'em young" -- and draw more minority visits.

"What they're trying to do is address deferred maintenance on the back of those currently visiting, when this problem has developed for decades," said Jewell.

The West has produced great Interior secretaries in recent years (Cecil Andrus, Bruce Babbitt and Jewell) as well as not-so-great secretaries.

Zinke has capsized the National Park Service advisory board, causing nine out of 12 members to resign en masse. Use of private jets has caused New York Times pundit Timothy Egan to nickname his "the Gulfstream Cowboy." He is not through reducing monuments, with Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument next on the chopping block.

In measured tones, Sally Jewell will be speaking her mind and calling on the public to defend the lands that it owns.