From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 8, Number 38 - December 11, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Interior secretary choice nears

by Derek Farr

There are very few counties that have as much at stake as Sublette County when it comes to President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary.

With over 67,000 employees and a $15.8 billion annual budget, the DOI manages over 500 million acres of land that supplies 38 percent of the nation’s natural gas production.

The vast majority – 261.7 million acres – of the DOI’s land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and that’s significant because nearly every cubic foot of natural gas produced in Sublette County comes from BLM-managed land.

For five years the most recent gas boom has brought more equipment, people, pollution, money, traffic and notoriety into the county than ever before. It has also infused the community with high-paying jobs and fantastically lucrative revenues.

Behind it all is the BLM.

The agency is responsible for the gas leases that allow energy companies to drill for trillions of cubic feet of gas.

That has some wondering if the incoming administration will have an effect on the rate of gas development in Sublette County and around the west.

And the DOI Secretary is “ground zero” for change.

The candidates

No name is getting kicked around the water cooler like Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, (D-Ariz). Grijalva, 60, a three-term house member from a district in southern Arizona, is well known as an ardent environmentalist and staunch Bush administration critic. He voted to censure President Bush over the decision to invade Iraq and while chairman of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee, he has been an outspoken opponent of Bush administration public lands policy.

On Oct. 22, 2008, Grijalva released a report titled “The Bush Years: A Legacy of Failure for Our Public Lands.”

Citing a 361 percent increase in drilling permits on public lands between 1999 and 2007, Grijalva reported, “Under the Bush Administration, there has been a deliberate effort to expedite and prioritize oil and gas development over all other uses of public lands.”

He also cited internal memos where the administration directed the BLM to “develop an alternative of higher well density and development beyond that actually proposed by the operator with direction on how to make the maximum number of projects fit into categorical exclusions to avoid NEPA altogether.”

Just this week the Obama transition team received a letter endorsing Grijalva from more than 130 environmental groups.

He has also received support from Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee of which Grijalva is a member, and from Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the committee’s Water and Power Subcommittee.

Perhaps the second most talked about name for Interior Secretary is Rep. Mike Thompson, (D-Calif.)

Thompson, 57, represents California’s first district, which follows the state’s coastline from the Oregon boarder to Napa Valley.

Considered a strong conservationist, in 2006 he introduced legislation to create 273,000 acres of wilderness in northern California. In October 2006 the bill was signed into law.

Thompson’s name rose to the top after President-elect Obama indicated in an interview with Field and Stream Magazine that an Interior Secretary should be a sportsman.

“I think that having a head of the Department of Interior who doesn’t understand hunting and fishing would be a problem,” Obama said.

As a longtime hunter and fisherman, Thompson’s supporters include Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) who sent letters to the transition team endorsing Thompson.

Also three dozen sportsmen’s groups, including Ducks Unlimited and Wildlife Forever have backed his nomination.

Thompson is on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The next most common name for the post is Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash). Inslee, 57, is a self-described environmentalist and global warming advocate.

He wrote the book “Apollos’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy” where he spelled out his vision for a green economy.

In May he called the DOI’s decision to list the Polar Bear as a threatened, not endangered, species as a “fraud” saying “The administration ruled out the one thing that would make the listing meaningful, an effective policy on stopping global warming.”

Inslee is on the Energy and Commerce, Natural Resource, and Energy Independence and Global Warming committees.


Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, 57, was appointed to the position in May 2006. Prior to his nomination by President Bush, Kempthorne was an Idaho governor and U.S. senator.

Environmental groups have maligned Kempthorne for placing one animal species on the threatened species list – the polar bear. It is the fewest listed by an Interior Secretary in 20 years.

Other critics point to his agency’s decision to allow guns in national parks and a loosening of regulations that might allow uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.

But he also oversaw a $1 billion National Park budget increase and a dramatic increase in domestic oil and gas exploration during a time of record high energy prices.

Unless the President-elect acknowledges an unexpected nominee, whoever takes Kempthorne’s place atop the DOI hierarchy makes one thing certain: The upcoming change will dramatically shift that agency’s head in a different direction.

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