Now that I’m reasonably certain that Mitt Romney will prevail on November 6, I thought I’d make a suggestion for a cabinet post: Sarah Palin for Secretary of the Interior. Despite her controversial media-magnet political baggage, she should at least be on Romney’s short list thanks to her familiarity with the workings of the public lands agencies.
Most of the half billion acres of federal land (the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies under the purview of the Department of the Interior; the United States Forest Service governed by the Department of Agriculture) in the United States is located in the American West. Depending on the party controlling the Oval Office, the job of Interior Secretary many times goes to a Western pol, many times a governor or ex-governor. Wally Hickel, Bruce Babbitt, and Dirk Kempthorne are good examples. Some such as Gale Norton and James Watt gathered their expertise in think tanks and legal foundations concerned with public lands policies. Ken Salazar (him of the smart bolo tie), the current Interior Secretary, is an ex-U.S. Senator from Colorado. The successful nominee to the post should have a thorough knowledge of the multiple functions of the public domain, roughly a quarter of the land area of the United States.
While governor of Alaska from 2006 to 2009 Sarah Palin reacted to federal policy on 222 million acres of public land (60% of the land area) in her state used for everything from timber sales and oil and gas leases, to hunting and fishing and other recreational activities. She supported the first steps to build the Alaska gas pipeline, a project of TransCanada and Exxon-Mobil designed to deliver natural gas to the Lower Forty Eight, and still in early development stages. To be sure, her attempt to raise taxes on energy companies doing business in Alaska was a bad idea. Taxes on energy production are already responsible for 90% of annual state revenue. Palin can take partial credit for Alaska’s current $12 billion dollars budget surplus, not bad for a state twice the size of Texas with a population of 723,000. Her policy of pursuing multiple-use (public land utilized in both extractive and recreational ways to maximize local economic benefits) was — as every Western governor knows — a constant battle to assist the creation of jobs, and to help keep her Alaskan constituents prosperous in the face of bureaucratic dictates from Washington driven by green legislation and the unending litigation of environmentalists.
Palin also has a personal connection with the public lands; in fact, risking shrieking green lefty hysteria, I’ll call her a conservationist. She grew up in Alaska and, with her husband Todd, has enjoyed hunting and fishing, and just plain “getting out there.” The Hook and Bullet demographic is usually denigrated as troglodytic by Gaia-type greens, yet hunting and fishing organizations work hard for habitat preservation. Being lampooned as “Caribou Barbie” by the likes of Maureen Dowd looks good on Palin’s résumé given that the New York Times columnist herself might not know the difference between a caribou and a moose. Dowd probably thinks the mission of federal Bureau of Reclamation is the regulation of cosmetic surgery.
Indeed, Palin as a lightning rod for loony green left savagery should be a plus from Romney’s point of view. Her notorious line, “Drill, baby drill,” is a good fit for a Romney energy policy that includes the promotion of such projects as the Keystone XL pipeline, a decision which President Obama ceremoniously punted into his second term (assuming we are so blessed) as a bouquet to his environmental left constituency. Shelving Keystone XL coupled with failing to develop at least a portion of an estimated 85 billion barrels of oil on America’s Continental Shelf at a time when Americans are paying almost four dollars for a gallon of gas is a good indication of the president’s disregard for consumers in order to satisfy a radical portion of his Democratic base more supportive of Solyndra-type boondoggles then a working energy policy.
Sarah Palin has never been shy about criticizing President Obama’s national energy policy or lack thereof. Her Facebook page states that “President Obama doesn’t have an energy plan. He has an energy speech that he continues to give regardless of the facts or his obvious failures.” High gas prices are “one of his campaign promises.” The Keystone pipeline: “If we’re worried about instability in the Middle East, it makes no sense to shun safe and reliable oil from Canada.”
Secretary Salazar continues to stonewall energy leases on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) tracts in the West, and others along the coastal continental shelf. Upon his appointment one of his first acts was to kill 77 leases in Utah previously approved by the Bush Administration. Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming by themselves have roughly 1.8 trillion barrels of “recoverable” oil shale (the U.S. Geological Survey estimates a total of 3 to 6 trillion barrels for that region) that currently sits in bureaucratic limbo. Salazar implemented Obama’s six month moratorium of Gulf of Mexico development following the British Petroleum (BP) “Deepwater Horizon” spill in 2010, and development in that sphere proceeds at a snail’s pace. Salazar maintains a no-drill policy in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). And this past May, new Interior Department regulations governing seismic hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” now add another layer of bureaucracy to that controversial natural gas extraction technique.
Thanks to the Bakken Formation in the western part of the state, North Dakota has America’s lowest unemployment rate (2.9% — June, 2012), its energy boom giving North Dakotans the sort of economic prosperity other Americans can only barely remember. I would think that both Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin are popular public figures in the Peace Garden State.