Sally Jewell

President Barack Obama and Sally Jewell applaud outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar after President Obama announced Jewell as his nominee to replace Salazar, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 6, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell showed up in a standard-issue, D.C. business suit. It gave her the look of a standard government official.

She mostly stuck to script, and did not divulge too much information and show too much candor.

But she did step forward with her opinion on Arctic oil and gas drilling.

Senator Lisa Murkowski asked Secretary Jewell whether the Fish and Wildlife Service’s final conservation plan for ANWR will include a development plan for oil and gas.

“The president has made it clear, it is not part of his agenda to do oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and I support that decision,” the Secretary told Murkowski.

As a member of the Cabinet, Jewell is expected to defend the president’s position. It would take an act of Congress to open ANWR up to drilling.

In his most recent budget, President Barack Obama proposes using money from onshore leases to help clean up legacy wells in the National Petroleum Reserve.

That’s something Senator Murkowski doesn’t support.

“Monies that would be going to the state of Alaska and its residents are going to be choked back,” she said Thursday morning. “That’s not appropriate.”

The president’s budget is far from law, so that plan is not in practice yet. And there’s no sign in Congress the two chambers will agree on a budget resolution anytime soon.

The wells were drilled by the Navy and Bureau of Land Management between 1944 and 1982. Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for the Wildness Society, said there are more pressing wells to plug in the Lower 48 that are closer to large populations of people.

“There are some that do need remediation [in NPR-A]. Interior has been making some progress on that, but it’s extremely expensive to do so in the National Petroleum Reserve. It’s very remote, hard to get equipment there, and frankly there aren’t many people there who are actually at risk,” she said from Anchorage.

Secretary Jewell told the committee she’s committed to capping the leaking wells in the NPR-A, but Congress needs to do its part and find the money to do so.

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