Sally Jewell, chief executive of outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), won easy Senate confirmation Wednesday (April 10) to be the nation’s next interior secretary.
According to a Boston Globe report, the Senate approved her nomination 87 to 11, with all the no votes coming from Republicans. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, was among those who opposed Jewell.
Jewell will oversee more than 500 million acres of national parks and other public lands, plus more than 1 billion acres offshore. The lands are used for energy development, mining, recreation, and other purposes.
One of the first challenges Jewell will face is a proposed rule requiring companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations.
Jewell also is expected to continue to push development of renewable energy such as wind and solar power, both of which are priorities of the interior secretary she succeeds, Ken Salazar.
President Obama nominated Jewell last month to replace Salazar, who announced his departure in January.
Obama said in a statement Tuesday that Jewell’s extensive business experience — including her work as a petroleum engineer — and her longtime commitment to conservation made her the right person for the job.
‘‘She brings an important mix of strong management skills, appreciation for our nation’s tradition of protecting our public lands and heritage, and a keen understanding of what it means to be good stewards of our natural resources,’’ Obama said.
Jewell, 57, of Seattle, also was a banker before taking over Kent, Wash.-based REI in 2005.
Ken Salazar, a man of unnaturally sunny disposition in an often gloomy town, may be the happiest person in the Obama administration these days. As reported by The New York Times, he is going home to Colorado next week, provided his successor as interior secretary is confirmed as expected.
“I’ve had a glorious and joyful run,” he reflected about his four years at the top of the Department of the Interior and, before that, his four years in the Senate. “Coming to work, I’ve just been living the dream every day.”
Salazar, 58, took over an agency that had been the scene of rampant financial scandal and political malpractice in the Bush administration and succeeded in restoring a measure of ethics and morale. He had the good fortune of suffering his greatest setback — the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that laid bare persistent flaws in the agency’s regulation of offshore oil and gas operations — relatively early in his tenure.
He also escaped without serious harm from a second serious miscalculation — allowing the Shell Oil Company to begin exploring for oil and gas off the North Slope of Alaska before it had the equipment, personnel or management skill to handle the challenges of working in the Arctic environment. Though Shell had repeated accidents and delays, no one was injured and no oil spilled, in part because the regulators at the Interior Department blocked them from drilling into oil-bearing zones.
He said that the greatest immediate challenge facing his designated successor, Sally Jewell, the chief executive of Recreational Equipment Inc. in Seattle, will be dealing with the impacts of the mandatory federal spending cuts known as sequestration. Those cuts will reduce the agency’s budget by more than $250 million over the next six months and require reductions in Interior Department operations across the board, Salazar said.
“It will have an enormous impact,” he said. Already, hours and services are being cut back at national parks and other public lands, and the department’s summer youth employment programs will be cut to 15,000 workers from 22,600 last year.
Jewell, who skated through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a 19-3 vote on March 21, is expected to win confirmation from the full Senate as early as next week. An avid outdoorswoman who has never held public office, Jewell is already at work in a transition office at the Interior Department, where she is being briefed on her new responsibilities.
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The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved President Obama’s pick to lead the Interior Department, REI Chief Executive Sally Jewell, sending the nomination to the full Senate for consideration.
At a time when several Obama Cabinet nominees have faced high hurdles during the confirmation process, Jewell sailed through the committee with a 19-3 vote, according to a Los Angeles Times report. Republicans Mike Lee of Utah, Tim Scott of South Carolina and John Barrasso of Wyoming opposed her nomination.
Barrasso had questioned Jewell doggedly during the confirmation hearing a few weeks ago about her service on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association, an environmental group, an affiliation he cited in his decision to reject the nomination.
Like her predecessors at Interior, Jewell, 58, will have to balance competing demands on public lands for conservation and resource exploitation. During her confirmation hearing, Jewell hewed to administration talking points about achieving balance among various demands on public lands and pursuing an “all of the above” energy policy. She also underscored the growing focus on climate change during Obama’s second term.
Jewell is a true newcomer to Washington. Interior secretaries have traditionally been Western politicians, in part because most federal lands are in the West. But Jewell’s roots are in private industry and conservation. Born in Britain and raised in Washington state, Jewell worked as an engineer in the oil industry after college before going into banking and then moving to REI, which she helped build into a $2-billion-a-year company. At the same time, she has worked on land conservation efforts and served on the board of trustees of the National Parks Conservation Association.
The American Recreation Coalition (ARC) has endorsed President Obama’s nomination today (Feb. 6) of Sally Jewell as the new Secretary of the Interior, succeeding Ken Salazar.
In a statement, ARC stated, “The recreation community is delighted by the President’s nomination of Sally Jewell to lead national conservation and recreation efforts as Secretary of the Interior. Sally is widely respected for her intelligence, her passion and her leadership skills. She has invested heavily with her time as a leader on the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, has supported use of the outdoors as a tool for better health and for stronger, sustainable communities. And she has worked actively through REI, through recreation industry organizations and personally to connect younger, more urban and ethnically diverse Americans to our share legacy of parks, forests, refuges and other outdoor treasures.”
Jewell is CEO of Recreational Equipment (REI).
The choice of Jewell, who began her career as an engineer for Mobil Oil and worked as a commercial banker before heading a nearly $2 billion outdoors equipment company, represents an unconventional choice for a post usually reserved for career politicians from the West, the Washington Post reported.
But while she boasts less public policy experience than other candidates who had been under consideration, Jewell, who will have to be confirmed by the Senate, has earned national recognition for her management skills and support for outdoor recreation and habitat conservation.
In 2011 Jewell introduced Obama at the White House conference on “America’s Great Outdoor Initiative,” noting that the $289 billion outdoor-recreation industry supports 6.5 million jobs.
Jewell would take over at a time when many conservationists are pressing Obama to take bolder action on land conservation. Salazar devoted much of his tenure to both promoting renewable energy on public land and managing the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
There has been concern from some that she lacks the political experience and broad knowledge of the issues confronting the sprawling department. Its responsibilities include management of public lands; oil, gas and timber production; fish and wildlife; tribal lands; and federal policy on places such as Guam, the Northern Marianas and Samoa.