President Obama drew support from environmental groups when he nominated Sally Jewell, president and CEO of outdoor retailer REI, for interior secretary last week. The choice received a ringing endorsement from Natural Resources Defense Council President Francis Beinecke who said in a statement, “Sally Jewell has the mind of an engineer, the heart of an environmentalist and the know-how of a businesswoman.” He added that “Jewell’s unique experience and her love of America’s outdoors will be invaluable to the stewardship of the waters, lands and wildlife we’ve been entrusted to protect for our children.”
A Seattle native, Jewell has a great love for the outdoors, and grew up sailing the Puget Sound and camping across the Pacific Northwest. Jewell is also an avid climber. She received a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington and went on to become a petroleum engineer for Mobil before working as a commercial banker and then taking over at REI in 2005. Under her leadership, REI has grown to a $2 billion per year business.
With her commitment to both business and conservation, and her oil industry experience, Jewell is seen as representing a new model for the position, one that can balance the interior secretary’s need to both support business interests and protect public lands.
“Sally Jewell has combined her business acumen with her love of the outdoors to become one of America’s top CEOs,” said Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the leading Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee. “She is proof positive that common sense, balanced conservation of our open spaces and natural resources can enrich communities, improve quality of life and create jobs.”
As Obama noted at Jewell’s nomination, “She knows the link between conservation and good jobs. She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress, that, in fact, those two things need to go hand in hand.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who announced he is stepping down at the end of March, orchestrated a six-month moratorium on offshore drilling following the Gulf Coast oil spill in 2010, but later drew fire from environmentalists when his agency allowed for exploratory offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
“Secretary Salazar’s departure leaves behind a mixed legacy,” said Jacqueline Savitz of the environmental group Oceana. She noted that Salazar did support renewable energy projects on public lands, but his legacy has been tainted by the drilling allowances in the Arctic.
In addition to tackling the issue of Arctic drilling, which has already proven risky, with an Royal Dutch Shell oil rig running aground on New Year’s Eve, Jewell will face oversight of rules yet to be established on highly controversial fracking, or hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil. She will also be in charge of 500 million acres of public land—including national parks—tens of thousands of employees and endangered species and Native American concerns.