Freedom: A Power for Environmental Stewardship
Secretary Gale Norton said the United States must harness innovation, ingenuity, and community spirit to care for its air, water, and wildlife. Speaking at a June 8 Director's Forum, Norton said freedom—combined with private property rights and respect for the rule of law—creates an atmosphere conducive to environmental cooperation and security.
"For the most part, free people share the same environmental values, even if they sometimes disagree on the best methods and most effective solutions," said Norton. "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."
Norton discussed the core of the Administration's environmental policy—cooperative conservation—which encourages partnerships among conservation groups, large companies, nonprofit organizations, and private landowners. Their approach focuses on innovation, long-term solutions, and engaging local people who "often know the land best and benefit the most from its care," Norton said.
One example she cited was the ivory-billed woodpecker, thought to have gone extinct decades ago. But scientists and conservationists rediscovered the bird and Interior is busy working with farmers, the Nature Conservancy, the Department of Agriculture, and local citizens to ensure the woodpecker's survival. She said private sector groups have donated $10 million for research and habitat protection, and the Interior and Agriculture departments additionally are proposing committing $10 million toward recovery efforts.
Norton said, "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." Such projects include restoring wetlands, replanting native vegetation, and protecting endangered species while eradicating invasive ones.
Facts about the Department of the Interior cited by the Honorable Gale Norton
- Interior manages 1 of every 5 acres of U.S. land
- Interior provides water to 35 million people
- Interior oversees national parks, recreation sites, and fish and wildlife refuges
- Its Bureau of Indian Affairs educates 50,000 Native American children annually
- Its earth-science agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, assesses energy and mineral supplies and water quality, produces maps, and conducts and disseminates research on natural hazards and other geologic and topographic issues
- 1/3 of the nation's oil, natural gas, and coal are produced on federally managed lands and offshore areas
Norton also discussed the importance of innovation to improving energy production while enforcing regulations to protect the environment. "Newer technologies allow us to plan for small spaces and tight controls," Norton said, citing technology that allows oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in a small area to protect the refuge. "There will be no permanent road, no trails," she explained. "Exploration will be done entirely on the ice. Directional drilling will be used, tapping into large reservoirs from a small area."
While following the Administration's three-pronged approach of increasing conservation, developing renewable sources, and expanding traditional energy sources, Norton underscored the importance of the latter given that renewable sources cannot meet the country's energy needs in the near future. But new technology could make it possible to extract new forms of oil and natural gas, such as oil shale and methane hydrates.
The global competition for energy, particularly given increased energy consumption in Asia, is among the reasons energy prices have soared. "But we can choose to prepare ourselves against energy shocks," Norton said. "We can build a nation in which economic prosperity and environmental protection go hand-in-hand, a nation in which future generations enjoy our spectacular outdoors."