By Mick Krever, CNN
Is Sally Jewell a contradiction in terms?
She is a CEO turned government regulator. She is a petroleum engineer turned conservationist. Indeed, the contradiction is built right into her job: As U.S. secretary of the interior, she is responsible for both the conservation and exploitation of about twenty percent of America’s land – that owned by the federal government.
“I feel privileged to be in a unique position of understanding how we must balance both” conservation and exploitation, or extraction of natural resources like oil and gas, she told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.
“You can't make a choice between having jobs and having resources and having a great environment,” she said from Washington. “It's a false choice.”
A new major study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due out later this month, says that scientists are now 95% certain that humans are responsible for global warming.
“There are ways that we can find energy, exploit our resources and do so in a way that is softer on the planet than we have in the past,” Jewell said. “I also know that natural resources are critical to driving our economy.”
The Department of the Interior, she told Amanpour, is uniquely placed to address climate change because – not in spite – of its dual mandate to both protect the environment and apportion natural resources.
To her colleagues, she said, it is “very clear” that things are changing in the environment; from new, invasive species aided by changing temperatures to wildfires burning so hot that plants are unable to regenerate as they once did after fires.
“We are in a privileged position to actually do something about that,” she said. “To prepare our lands for climate change but also to help stand up renewable energy.”
A massive amount of energy development is occurring in the United States in the form of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, a complicated method for extracting natural gas that was once unreachable.
It is a hugely controversial technique both in the United States and abroad, where it is becoming increasingly popular.
“There's a lot of misinformation about fracking,” Jewell said, “and I'm probably in a pretty unique position as the Secretary of Interior who's actually served as a petroleum engineer and fracked wells myself.”
“It can be done safely and responsibly,” she told Amanpour. While it is important to make sure it is done safely and responsibly, “unconventional techniques for releasing fossil fuels provides a softer imprint on the land in many ways and creates the ability to extract more natural gas or oil from the same formations that may have been uneconomic before.”
Ultimately, she said, these techniques should not be seen as permanent.
You cannot turn immediately from one source of energy to another one,” she told Amanpour. “It's a bridge. It's a bridge to a future that's carbon-free.”