Remarks at All-Employees Meeting (Jan 2009)
Thank you. Let me just say from the outset that you humble me with this reception. I am absolutely confident that this Department is well on its way – all of us together – to making not only our nation but our world a better place. We are a department with huge assets. These are assets belonging to the American people that you oversee and husband. At the end of the day, they are going to be part of what allows us to take the moon shot to energy independence and deal with so many of the challenges that America faces today.
So at outset, I want to say that I am very proud to be your Secretary of the Interior and America’s Secretary of the Interior. Thank you.
Less than 48 hours ago, we witnessed one of the defining moments of our history: the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America. As President Obama said in his Inaugural Address, "This is a moment of opportunity for our nation; an opportunity to remake America; an opportunity to inspire a new ethic of public service."
That is why I am so excited, and so honored, to stand before you today, addressing the employees of the Department of the Interior as the 50th Secretary of this department. I believe that through our service together, we can help remake America and we can help change the world.
I want to thank several people for their work and for their support. I want to thank former Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne for helping me personally in this transition.
I also, very importantly, want to thank all the men and women of the National Park Service and other bureaus who worked so tirelessly to make the inauguration an historic success.
Frankly, it was hard for me, as I moved around the city and met with President Obama, to fathom how a National Park could host almost two million people from all over the world. The logistical challenges posed by that number of people are incredible. The Park Police told me that even with two million people, there was not a single arrest. That tells you something about America. It was a great celebration of democracy.
I want to commend Peggy O’Dell, the Regional Director of the National Capital Area, for the great effort and getting it done.
I also want to thank the U.S. Park Police, which had the security and public safety responsibility for our national monuments and the National Mall area. We do not take for granted their professionalism and their sacrifice to keep us all safe. Sal Lauro, the chief of the U.S. Park Police, and his force did one extraordinary job on Tuesday.
I also would like to commend the fine work done by the Department of the Interior’s transition team as we prepared to take office. It is remarkable that with every new president, the entire leadership of the government of America changes. And with a department as large and as complex as the Department of the Interior, it is important that there be as seamless as a transition as possible.
I want to thank Larry Jensen, the leader of the transition team, and all the bureau transition team leaders, who assisted us in assuring that we did have a seamless transition. You have helped us make it possible for us to hit the ground running.
To serve in President Obama’s Cabinet as your Secretary of the Interior is an honor and I am humbled by it.
My roots in the West stretch back for four centuries to when my ancestors first came to New Mexico. I grew up in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, about 265 miles south of Denver on lands my family has farmed and ranched for five generations.
My family’s livelihood depended on the health of our land. Our parents taught us about the importance of water and about the importance of land. Because the sustainability of our family depended on how we took care of our land and our water, they taught us that we had to be responsible stewards of the water, soil, and wildlife around us, so that we could preserve the balance that allows us to ranch and farm, generation after generation.
This sense of stewardship is the foundation for my deep appreciation of all of our lands in America and our beautiful planet Earth. Our nation’s parks, refuges, forests, rivers and seashores are national treasures. Those who work in this department have a sacred trust to protect and conserve and enhance these treasures as an inheritance for generations to come.
As President Obama said in his inaugural address, we live in a time when changing the way we do business is not simply an option. It is a necessity. Our country faces its biggest challenges in more than a generation. There is much reason, however, for hope in America. And that hope in America lies in the hearts and the minds of the people of this great nation and in the hearts and minds of the people of this department.
The Department of the Interior is playing and will play a huge role in the future in the change that will come to America.
As I told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during my confirmation hearing, my priorities are many and I want to go through them this morning. One of those priorities will be to lead the Interior Department with openness in decision-making, high ethical standards, and with respect for scientific integrity.
In the last few years, this Department has suffered because of ethical lapses and criminal activity at the highest level. That doesn’t mean to say that the people of the Department of the Interior are bad people, because they are not. You know how one apple in a bushel can spoil the whole bushel? There has been, essentially, a picture of this department that has been painted unfairly on the backs of career employees because of the actions of political appointees. That era is now changing. A new era starts today.
As the Attorney General of Colorado, I served the chief law enforcement officer for the state. I loved that job because it was about making sure we that the 40,000 law enforcement officers I worked with every day were doing everything they could to protect the people of the state of Colorado.
My Chief of Staff, who is with me here this morning, Tom Strickland, during that same time period was a United States Attorney for the state of Colorado. With Tom a former United States Attorney and me as a former Attorney General of the state of Colorado, we and those who work with this department will make sure we follow the high ethical standards that President Obama outlined in his first press conference yesterday at the White House. We will follow the law. We will hold people accountable. We will expect to be held accountable. And we will not tolerate the types of lapses that detract and distract from the good honest service to the American people that this department does every day.
I pledge to you that we will ensure the Interior Department’s decisions are based on sound science and the public interest, and not on the special interests. I want the public to be proud of the department’s work, and I want those who work for the department to be proud of their service.
Above all, I want you to know that your secretary is proud of you and respects the work you do to serve the American people. In our work together in the months and years ahead, I want to transform this Department from what has been perceived as a Department of the West to a Department of all of America. We are a department that has a global footprint as well as a footprint in each of our 50 states and each of our territories and insular possessions.
The truth is the Department and its agencies touch all of the people of America. It protects treasured landscapes of our country from coast to coast. It provides the bulk of our energy that heats our homes and our businesses, powers our commerce and essentially enables our way of life here in America.
This Department and its assets provide water to drink and to fuel agriculture and industry for the great bulk of this nation.
It provides vital, key, essential, and important services to our first Americans to the Native Americans of these United States.
It provides places where we preserve our history and honor where we have come from. It educates us about our diversity across this great country. This department leads the efforts to make sure we are protecting habitat for fish and wildlife critical to conserving the ecosystems of this world. And this department provides the science to guide the management of all of our duties and decisions.
So whether your job, as employees to this department, involves protecting wildlife or issuing leases, preserving history or providing water, I urge you to think of your mission as part of a mission of a new Department of America -- this Department of the Interior.
Whether you see yourself primarily as a manager, a scientist, an environmentalist, or an advocate of more energy development -- whether that be renewable energy like solar, geothermal, wind, or development of our oil and gas resources or resources such as coal -- I urge you to embrace our new agenda and the vision of our President so that change can come to our government. I am open to your ideas on how this department, for example, can be a model for national service.
President Obama has given us work to do. We will do it right away. In the coming weeks, the new Administration will be creating, with Congress, a new strong economic recovery plan that will help create jobs, build our clean energy economy for the future, and remake America.
I have worked on that plan and I can tell you that the Department of the Interior will be an essential part of the economic recovery program. The package, which hopefully will be completed in the several weeks, will include what will be a historic first time investment in our National Park System, in our dams, in our trail systems, and other aspects of this department. As it takes formation, it is going to give us all who are assembled here today and those who are watching across the country a great opportunity to do those things people have dreamt about but have simply not been able to do over many, many decades.
For example, think about the Centennial of the National Park system in the year 2016. I want our national park systems and our treasured landscapes to be the best they have ever been. This economic stimulus package will help us move in that direction in a very important way.
This stimulus package also will move us forward into a new energy frontier. You have seen some of what the Congress has already done and its positive reaction to the framework that we are working on. Whether we are talking about renewable energy facilities such as solar, geothermal or wind or transmission lines across our public land that will bring that energy to the places where it is going to be used, there will be significant investments as we move forward with this economic recovery program.
Let me just say that as we participate in the economic recovery effort for America we will have a responsibility in this Department to make sure these historic dollars are used wisely, appropriately and efficiently to do the very best we can with our mission. We will show the American people the investments we are making. We must be prepared, we must be transparent, and we must be accountable for how we use these dollars.
President Obama and I have discussed other goals for the future. I can tell you that being a United States Senator for Colorado was a blessing of a lifetime. It was difficult for me to write my letter of resignation on January 20th. As I said to some of you yesterday, most people said to me that the only way that you should resign the U.S. Senate seat is if you are going to be Secretary of State or Attorney General. The other departments are not that important. But I said that there is one other department that is as important: the Department of the Interior.
So as I made that very important milestone decision of my life with President Obama, we talked about what our priorities would be and how I would work with the president in implementing those priorities. Let me just review what some of those are.
First, we must help our nation reduce its dependence on foreign oil. This is an absolute imperative of our time. I sat on the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Energy Committee for the last four years and we worked on these issues. I can tell you that there are inescapable forces on America today that will ensure that we don’t step backwards in the way that we did in the 1970s and in the 1980s.
Many of you in this room will still remember when Richard Nixon in the early 70s, as President of the United States, coined the term “energy independence” because of the formation of OPEC. And you will remember that nighttime address in the late 70s by President Jimmy Carter where he called us to take on energy independence, as he said and I quote, “With the moral imperative of war.” With the moral imperative of war.
If you look at the budget in terms of what happened and the whole renewable energy future, the fact is that it peaked in 1979 and 1980. And then it disappeared. Disappeared.
So America slept through the 1980s. It slept through the 1990s. It slept until we have now awakened it. We have awakened our country at a time where the forces are different than they were back in the 1970s. Today, I think there is recognition among Democrats and Republicans, among Progressives and Conservatives that we must set America free. And we will set America free because of the inescapable forces that drive us on.
They are very simple. First and foremost, our national security. When we think about Hezbollah, Hamas and organizations that are out there, trying to destroy our way of life, and how we are putting our troops in harms way in Afghanistan and Iraq and many other places around the world, the question arises: where is the money coming from that is fueling that war against America today? Much of that money, frankly, is coming from the oil that we are buying here in the United States of America today. So our national security requires us to move forward to energy independence in a real way.
Secondly, our environmental security requires us to move forward. It was not so long ago when there were big debates on the floor of the U.S. Senate. A number of my colleagues in the Senate basically said that global warming was really not an issue, that we were just in a dry period of time. And yet, just in the last four years, you have witnessed what I have witnessed. As you saw on the campaign trail with my good friend, now president, Barack Obama, and my other good friend, Senator John McCain, there was a lot of conversation about the reality of global warming and the fact that we had to do something about it. At its core, what we do about global warming is what we do with our energy future. That is an inescapable force.
And thirdly, we have great economic opportunity here at home. If we move forward with an energy agenda, we can create economic opportunity here at home because we can be spending dollars here in the United States of America, instead of sending hundreds of billions of dollars to the Middle East and other places where they have the oil reserves.
As we move forward into that energy future, it will be important for all of us to understand that our oil and gas and coal resources are very much a part of the equation for that future. We cannot get from here to there without, frankly, developing the oil and gas resources that we have here in this nation – both on our lands as well as in some selected areas in the offshore area. We cannot move forward simply by turning off the lights today and turning off all the coal-fired power plants. But we can move forward with carbon capture and sequestration, and clean coal technologies. These are some of the things we will do.
So as I spoke about coming here to the Department of the Interior with President Obama, I said that I would join his team because together we are going to take the moon shot on energy and we are going to become energy independent. We are going to set America free once and for all from our addiction to foreign oil. I need your help to get that done. Are you going to help me?
We must also do a lot more with a whole host of other issues including dealing with our water issues, and not just in the West. It used to be that most of water issues were out in the West on the Colorado River and a whole host of other projects that I have worked on in the past, including the Animas-La Plata project.
Now I am getting calls about a major water dispute going on in the Southeast. And I know that this Department is well poised with its leadership and expertise to help resolve many of these interstate conflicts.
Let me also say that our Native American communities are very important to us. We have more than 500 tribes across this country to whom this department has a sacred responsibility assigned to it by law. We have a trust responsibility for the Indian Tribes of America. It will be a high priority of mine and I look forward to working with those of you who work in that part of the department and with the new Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, as we move forward with that agenda.
I have a longer speech but I think am going to go to the end so you can ask me questions.
Finally, let me just say a few words about public service. My father, Henry, was a staff sergeant in World War II and he was poor. My mother was the age of 19 when she found her way on the train across the vast lands of this country to come here to Washington to work just a few blocks from here at what was then known as the War Department. She worked there for five years as a very young woman.
They instilled in us the values that have gotten me to where I am at today. They instilled in us love of education, the love for family, the love for our community, and the understanding of the importance of our land and our water.
The place that I come from is a very spiritual place as well. The San Luis Valley has an average elevation of about 7,700 feet, across what is the highest alpine valley in the United States of America. Off to the West, there are mountains named the San Juan Mountains after Saint John the Baptist. And off to the East, the sun comes up over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, painting the sky with crimson colors. The Blood of Christ Mountains. So it is in that place where I had my values molded in terms of my work for public service. They were values that were given to me by my father, my mother and generations that came before me. And so my mission is a very simple mission. It is to simply try to do my small part in making the world a better place for all humanity and for our children and our grandchildren to come.
As I begin my first days here at the Department of the Interior, of this I am sure: that whatever small part I play in President Obama’s mission to make the world a better place, I can only do it with the men and women of America’s Department, the best department, the Department of the Interior.