On Thursday on Capitol Hill, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a confirmation hearing to consider the nomination of Sally Jewell for the position of Secretary of the Interior. She comes to the room offering some measure of comfort to two of the primary constituencies that care most about the post. Big oil? Check -- she worked for years for Mobil Oil, out in the oil and gas fields of Oklahoma. Environmentalists? Check -- she comes to Washington, D.C., from R.E.I., the "outdoor recreation" company, where she was a longtime advocate for conservation.
But Jewell is mostly a blank slate when it comes to two key areas of the Interior Department's portfolio which are in famous and direct conflict with one another. The first relates to the federal government's complicated relationship with the ranching and livestock industries. Jewell does not appear to have much of a public record when it comes to her views on the concept of welfare ranching -- the age-old, under-reported pork-barrel policy by which the federal government practically gives away the use of our public land to private ranching and farming interests by means of well-below-market lease rates.