U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and presidential senior adviser Brian Deese have only weeks left in their current jobs, and they have some advice for their successors. “Coming from the private sector … I can tell you I was very naive walking in as a business person into the role. You realize very quickly the gravity of the decisions you make … and that’s going to hit everybody that sits in these chairs,” Jewell, who served as CEO of REI prior to her appointment, said Tuesday of the incoming Trump administration.
Jewell has led the Interior Department since April 2013 and has ushered in some controversial climate change-related programs, including the launch of a programmatic environmental impact statement review of the national coal leasing programs. The review, announced in mid-January, has frozen all new coal leasing on federal lands, angering the coal industry. Republican President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to lift the moratorium.
Speaking at Georgetown University Tuesday evening, Jewell said it will be crucial for the new administration to understand all sides of an issue before taking action. “There will be people that will want you to make a decision that they want you to make, and they’ll give you just enough information to make that decision, and it’s going to be your responsibility to seek out all those different points of view so that you can make that reasoned judgment,” she said.
Deese, who has advised President Barack Obama on matters related to climate change since February 2015, concurred during the event that it is vitally important to think of all of the potential outcomes of an action. Deese’s work is also at risk under the new administration, as with his assistance Obama struck many climate-related deals with other nations and signed the U.S. onto the international Paris Agreement on climate change, which Trump has threatened to leave.
Deese noted that the Paris Agreement entered into force very quickly, on Nov. 4, due to a global consensus that climate change is a threat. “The Paris Agreement will continue to be the global driver of climate change action,” he said. “The real question is, is the United States going to be at the table to make sure that we’re holding other countries accountable and that our businesses, our industries … are protected against negative things that could come our way as well.”
Climate change was not always a priority for the Obama administration, Deese said, as the president inherited a nation in a state of economic collapse. The first order of business was addressing that threat, which took much of Obama’s first term. It was in his second term that Obama made climate change an underlying theme in everything he did, Deese said, noting the president’s Climate Action Plan, which resulted in a number of regulatory efforts to cut emissions, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, carbon emissions standards for coal-fired power plants.
Obama’s “consistent deliberate prioritization” of climate change took hold over the last several years, sending a clear signal throughout the federal government that these concerns must be considered in all decisions, Deese said.