Cabinet Secretary Discusses U.S. Dependence On Foreign Oil
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, the NCAA gave the University of North Dakota a choice: Stop using the fighting Sioux logo or get the state's two Sioux tribes to lift the ban. Now there's a fight within the tribes over the use of the logo. We'll hear more about that in just a few minutes.
But first, a newsmaker interview. Tomorrow is Earth Day and for millions of Americans that means committing to greater awareness about environmental issues and trying to find a balance between our own needs and the need to conserve our natural resources.
For Ken Salazar, striking that balance is his mission every day. As the secretary of the Interior, it's his job to find sustainable ways to manage America's natural resources, and he's with us now. In fact, he's back with us again almost a year to the day that we spoke to him last Earth Day. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Secretary KEN SALAZAR (Interior Department): Thank you very much.
MARTIN: And when we spoke last year, and of course throughout the year, you've talked about this, that our president has made it a priority, as have you, to engage more people of color in environmental causes. And he's touted green industry as one way to do both, both draw more people of color into the environmental field and also to address economic issues at the same time. And I'd like to ask, what progress do you think has been made over the course of the year?
Sec. SALAZAR: Yeah, we have made great strides at outreach to young people of all backgrounds and all colors because we believe that issues relating to our planet and to the environment really affect everybody. Doesn't matter whether you're African-American or white. The fact is that everybody should care about the planet that we depend on to sustain ourselves and our children. So our hope is as we move forward that we can continue to celebrate the great outdoors and do an even greater effort to try to connect people to the outdoors.
But today, people are not as connected to the outdoors as they used to be. Our young children spend hours and hours in front of computers and television and only a few minutes in the outdoors. So we have a major initiative underway to get young people connected to the outdoors as part of our America's Great Outdoors Initiative, which the president announced here at the Interior just last week.
MARTIN: You gave a talk recently at the 15th Annual National Capitol Forum on Hispanic Higher Education, and you talked about the need for students to be prepared for careers in the green fields and in clean energy. I'd like to ask you, is it a tough sell? I mean, as we discussed last year, there are -sometimes people in minority communities or communities that have been historically disadvantaged find it very hard to get excited about environmental issues because they feel that they are dealing with more sort of basic survival or just trying to find their way into the middle class. So, do you think it's a tough sell?
Sec. SALAZAR: You know, I think the fact is that there are economic barriers that keep people from getting connected to the outdoors, and they exist not only in communities of color but in other communities. From a social economic point of view, we know that people of color are less likely to participate in visiting places like Yellowstone or other places just because of the expense of getting to those places.
And so, there are some challenges there. But at the end of the day, what we are hopeful that we'll be able to do is to embrace an inclusive America, all of America in connecting them to the outdoors. And there are really two aspects to this. The first is, when we talk about green jobs, that's the future of the American economy. We hope under President Obama's leadership that we create a transformation so that we move forward into a clean energy economy that really captures the power of the sun and geothermal and so many of the renewable energy resources.
And in so doing that, that's where the jobs of the future are. And those jobs should be available to all people who have the training. So it's important that everybody gets a kind of education that they can go into those kinds of fields if that is what they choose to do.
The other part of this is just the health aspects, really, that come with people being connected to the outdoors. We know that people who spend time in the outdoors are healthier people. That's because hiking, biking, canoeing, fishing, whatever is done in the outdoors tends to create healthier people.
MARTIN: How are you doing with that?
Sec. SALAZAR: You know, I think we're doing very well. We have a youth initiative within the Department of Interior. We opened up an office where we are making great strides educating and employing young people. We will, this year, grow by over 50 percent. The number of young people who are working here, we'll have over 12,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 25 who will work within Interior manage labs all across the United States of America. That's a 50 percent growth over last year and we will continue to grow with those same huge strides in the years ahead.
MARTIN: No, I was asking how are you doing at getting outdoors, given all your responsibilities?
Sec. SALAZAR: Oh, me personally?
MARTIN: Yes, you, personally.
Sec. SALAZAR: Well, Michel, talking about me. Here's the deal, I think in the last eight, nine days I have taken walks and hikes that have at least been two miles long on most of those days. I was at Shenandoah National Park on Saturday and Sunday hiking around Shenandoah National Park. So I'm trying to do my part in getting outdoors and staying healthy.
MARTIN: Okay. Well, if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with the secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. We're talking about Earth Day and we're talking about the various initiatives his department and he have been involved in to advance the environmental agenda.
And I also want to talk about one of your responsibilities is balancing environmental interests with economic interests. And the president has embraced limited offshore drilling for oil and natural gas. And you recently unveiled a drilling research plan for the Arctic Ocean. So, in the small amount of time that we have, could you just help us understand, what is your ideal scenario in terms of offshore versus land drilling?
Sec. SALAZAR: We need to make sure that we have balance. Everyone who lives in this country today consumes oil and gas and other fossil resources. But it's also important for us to stand squarely in the foot of conservation and defending this planet.
And so the plan that we unveiled firmly said in a strong statement that we believe that there are places that are treasures for wildlife and fish and for other values such as Bristol Bay in Alaska. We're going to protect those. And we're not going to allow drilling to take place.
On the other hand, there are places like the Gulf of Mexico where there is already extensive information on oil and gas activity, which has occurred there and is occurring safely. And we think it's okay to go ahead and develop oil and gas resources there because we need them for our economy to continue to grow and hopefully become strong again.
So, we're trying to find the right balance and make sure that we have a strong cornerstone in conservation and also that we are supporting, in places where it's appropriate, the development of oil and gas.
MARTIN: And, of course, you met earlier this month with Virginia governor Bob McDonnell. And you talked about oil drilling off the shores of the Virginia coast, which is something that he strongly supports. But how do you respond to critics who see this focus on offshore drilling as at best a distraction from weaning the country from its dependency on fossil fuels, who say that this is something that's going to happen anyway and that all these offshore drilling initiatives just delay the day or delay the inevitable?
Sec. SALAZAR: Well, we're not at the point where we can wean ourselves off of oil and gas and fossil resources. We would essentially bankrupt and weaken the nation overnight if that's where we were to head. And so we know there will be a period of transition. And in this time of transition, the oil and natural gas resources of the United States should be used in order for us to achieve greater independence from imported oil.
And where through even cleaner burning fuel such as natural gas, we can limit the carbon emissions which are now creating dangerous pollution for our children, for our planet.
MARTIN: And of course you know that there's this constant tension between protecting natural resources and protecting the interest of people who are economically dependent upon using them. And as we're, you know, struggling with this recession, I'm sure you've seen these ads right now that attempt to, you know, make an argument for why we can't focus more on conservation right now. They can't make conservation a priority right now. People say we can't afford to do anything that would dampen economic growth at a time like this. What do you say to those people?
Sec. SALAZAR: Well, I would say that we have to do both. We have to do with conservation and we have to do development. You know, on the conservation side, you know, the president and his "America's Great Outdoors" speech here at Interior last week spoke about how it was in the most difficult times of the history of the nation that we were able to move forward and preserve the best of what is America today.
Abraham Lincoln set aside the lands that became Yosemite in the midst of the bloodiest war, the Civil War. Theodore Roosevelt who became the wilderness warrior, a Republican, set aside and created much of the conservation legacy that we enjoy today. And Franklin Roosevelt, in the midst of the Depression did more for conservation than anybody since.
And so I think it is in time of crisis where the American heritage and the American spirit is fueled by the connection to the land and to the ethic of conservation.
MARTIN: And then finally, this is, you know, coming up, it's another personal question, many Americans will be making their summer vacation plans on a limited budget. As Interior secretary, are there any natural wonders which you say all Americans simply must see?
Sec. SALAZAR: There are hundreds of them. And across our national park system in the United States, we have 392 of those units. They are affordable to the people of this country and they exist in places like the Santa Monica Mountains in California, and Yosemite there in the North, as well as Acadia in Maine and the Everglades in Florida and a whole host of other places. And they are wonders of nature and opportunities for recreation for families to camp and hike. For those who are into fishing, they're also great places to go do those kinds of things.
So, they are inexpensive and as Ken Burns said in his film on the national parks, they are America's best idea. They are uniquely American and uniquely democratic because they don't belong just to the kings and to the noblemen and to the rich, they belong to all of us, to the common person.
MARTIN: Come on, that's an awfully diplomatic answer. Pick two, pick one or two.
Sec. SALAZAR: One or two all across America, my God.
Sec. SALAZAR: You know...
MARTIN: Must see. Must go.
Sec. SALAZAR: You know, it will depend on where you live, okay?
Sec. SALAZAR: But for me, because I am able to go to all of these parks as the boss of the secretary of Interior and the parks, you know, a couple of my favorite places are Acadia in Maine, the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior in Wisconsin and my favorite of them all, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
MARTIN: Okay. Well, there you go. Thank you. See? I'm just helping people to narrow their list. So, thank you for that. Ken Salazar is the secretary of the Interior. He was kind enough to join us from his office. Mr. Secretary, we thank you so much for speaking to us once again.
Sec. SALAZAR: Thank you very much. Have a great day.
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