A Power for Environmental Stewardship

Remarks as Delivered by The Honorable Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior

Jun 08, 2005

We are here, at the Woodrow Wilson Center within the Ronald Reagan Building.

Both Presidents believed in the power of freedom. Both saw America as a force for good. Although those great men have stepped into the twilight of memory, freedom is still on the march.

America is still facing awesome challenges. Yet we sometimes underestimate the strength of freedom to solve them. Today we often think of freedom in terms of foreign policy. Freedom is also essential at home, in ways we seldom consider.

Freedom creates an atmosphere allowing environmental stewardship to flourish. Coupled to private property rights and respect for the rule of law, freedom creates a power for environmental stewardship that cannot be underestimated.

The namesake of this organization once noted, "I believe in Democracy because it releases the energies of every human being."

That idea is at the heart of the Administration's approach to environmental policy. Over the next several minutes, I am going to describe a few of the ways in which we are unleashing that energy to generate environmental stewardship and economic prosperity.

Freedom works. How do we know? Take a look around the globe. The lands are greener where freedom grows. The lands are cleaner where the rule of law runs.

For the most part, free people share the same environmental values, even if they sometimes disagree on the best methods and most effective solutions. For one thing, free people usually generate the wealth, and commit the resources, needed to care for the environment.

The converse is also true. Despotism leads to environmental destruction. When the Iron Curtain fell, it revealed almost unimaginable environmental contamination. The air was corrupted. Seas had sickened. The earth itself was blackened with pollution, befouled with industrial residues and radioactive debris.

Ecosystems in the former Soviet Union are still in danger. The Aral Sea has shrunk. Lake Biakal, the world's largest freshwater lake, remains threatened by runoff and air pollution.

Tyranny leads to environmental terrors. Saddam Hussein not only torched oil fields in Kuwait, he also drained the vast wetlands in southern Iraq. They were once the largest in the Middle East, twice the size of the Florida Everglades. Under Saddam, they shrank into a shadow, with little but scrub brush and salty earth, displacing the people who had lived there for generations.

Freedom can restore the corruption created by tyranny.

Freedom has reopened the gates to Iraq. My department is working with the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Agency for International Development to reconstruct the marshlands. Fruits of that renewal can already be seen.

The President and I are working to channel the power of freedom at home too. The core of this administration's environmental approach is the conviction that conservation comes best through willing hands and willing hearts.

Cooperative Conservation is the touchstone of my efforts at the Interior Department. Through cooperative conservation, we are encouraging partnerships with all who are willing to help — conservation groups and large companies; private landowners and non-profits.

We want results. We want innovative approaches and long-lasting solutions. We also want local people to be involved in conservation decisions. They often know the land best, and they often benefit the most from its care.

Those benefits are far more than monetary. They are cleaner air and clearer water; healthy parks and thriving refuges. As local communities become greener, the entire nation benefits.

One example of the cooperative conservation is the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. Last month, I was with a group of scientists and conservationists when they announced the dramatic rediscovery of the bird.

It is a spectacular black and white creature, with a crimson crest. The Ivory-Billed was believed to have gone extinct decades ago.

Instead, it was rediscovered. That gave us the gift of a second chance. We are going to use it. To make the recovery efforts as innovative and effective as possible, we are going to take a cooperative approach.

We could have started with a heavy-handed approach — telling local landowners that they would be prohibited from doing a laundry list of activities on their property. But that would have instantly alienated hundreds of local citizens — whose support is critical for the bird's survival. It would only take an idiot or two to kill the bird and forever destroy its second chance of survival.

Instead, we are reaching out to willing hands. We are working closely with Nature Conservancy and Department of Agriculture on acquiring easements from willing sellers. We are enrolling farmers in the conservation reserve program and buying land to expand our wildlife refuges.

We have held town hall meetings near the sites where the bird was spotted, and the local citizens are enthusiastic. Having tools to encourage voluntary conservation gives us more tools in our toolbox for achieving conservation success.

That cooperative effort extends to funding. Private sector groups and citizens have already committed $10 million toward research and habitat protection efforts. We at the Interior Department, together with the Agriculture Department, have proposed spending $10 million in federal funds to protect the bird and its habitat.

It is still early, but I believe the cooperative conservation approach will make a big difference for recovering the woodpecker.

Cooperative approaches are making a great difference in conservation across the country and around the world. If time permitted, I could describe a number of other success stories.

The power of cooperative conservation is the reason that this Administration has sent $1.7 billion in grants to states, cities, tribes, conservation groups, farmers and ranchers, and other partners for on-the-ground conservation projects.

Wetlands are being restored through those cooperative conservation grants. Invasive species are being eradicated, native vegetation is being replanted, and the environment is being enhanced.

We are also helping to spread the word about how cooperative efforts can solve local environmental problems. Last August, President Bush signed an Executive Order on cooperative conservation. The order directed federal agencies to ensure increased local participation in Federal decision making. It also called for a White House conference, which will be held in late August.

The role of freedom is different when we discuss issues like energy production. Regulation obviously has a place. But by creating an atmosphere where technology innovation can flourish, we gain tools that better protect the environment.

Older technologies used in places like Alaska's Prudhoe Bay led to sprawl, which was not great for the environment. Newer technologies allow us to plan for small spaces and tight controls — almost like we would envision a colony on the moon.

Now in the 10-0-2 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), energy exploration will be self-contained in a small area. There will be no permanent road, no trails. Exploration will be done entirely on the ice. Directional drilling will be used, tapping into large reservoirs from a small area.

According to Senator Pete Domenici, at peak production, ANWR could make an $18 billion difference annually in our balance of trade — perhaps $500 billion over the life of the project.

Freedom also gives the opportunity for debate. Both houses of Congress have passed budgets supporting environmentally responsible energy production in the 10-0-2 area. Additional steps still need to be taken.

We are following the three-part policy that President Bush announced long ago: Increasing conservation, developing renewables, and opening traditional energy sources.

At Interior, we are doing a great deal with renewables. No administration has done more to encourage their development.

Take geothermal energy: During its last four years in office, the previous administration approved 20 geothermal leases. In our four years in office, we have already approved ten times that number — 200 geothermal energy leases.

Take wind energy: Between 1996 and 2000, the previous administration approved 6 wind energy permits. Between 2000 and 2004, we permitted ten times that number. In addition to those 60 wind energy permits, approval is pending on 53 permits for wind energy rights of way.

We have even ordered agency land use planners to consider the development of renewable energy sources when examining land use plans.

But renewable sources will simply not be sufficient to meet the Nation's energy needs in the near term. We need traditional sources too. We also need more nuclear plants and more technology development for new forms of oil and natural gas like oil shale and methane hydrates.

Global competition for energy will continue to grow. The Energy Information Administration says, "Energy demand in the emerging economies of developing Asia, which include China and India, is projected to more than double over the next 25 years."

To maintain a steady rate of economic growth, experts estimate that China will need to increase its energy consumption by about 150 percent.

Based on its share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), China is expected to soon become the 3rd largest economy in the world, according to an estimate by Goldman Sachs. China's GDP could surpass that of the United States in 2041.

The U.S. chemical industry lost about 90,000 jobs between 1998 and 2003 in part due to high oil and gas prices. According to a recent article in BusinessWeek, the United States' long surplus of trade in chemicals has now become a deficit.

The same article noted that China now has fifty chemical plants being built with a price tag of $1 billion or more. In contrast, the United States has just one.

China is reaching out to acquire the energy it needs. Last fall for example, China signed an oil and gas agreement with Iran worth at least $70 billion. China has become closer with Venezuela. It is also reaching out to African nations like South Africa and Angola.

China's increased consumption is one of the reasons we have seen almost shocking energy prices. But we can choose to prepare ourselves against energy shocks.

Through innovation, cooperation and local problem solving, we can build a nation in which economic prosperity and environmental protections go hand-in-hand: A nation in which future generations enjoy our spectacular outdoors.

It can happen. Cooperative conservation gives the tools. Energy security provides the power. Freedom confers the foundation.

Thank you.

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