President Obama Names Sally Jewell to Head Interior Department

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By Glynn Wilson

President Barack Obama nominated a former oil company engineer to head the Interior Department on Wednesday to replace Ken Salazar, who recently stepped down to return to Colorado.

The choice is unusual in more ways than one. The post has historically gone to career politicians from the West, but Sally Jewell began her career as an engineer for Mobil Oil. She has also worked as a commercial banker and has been running a multi-billion dollar recreational company, Recreational Equipment.

The president made the announcement in the White House State Dining Room, and he highlighted her experience working in the oil fields of Colorado and Oklahoma, as well as in the executive offices of a major retailer. He praised her as a leader who “knows the link between conservation and good jobs.”

“So even as Sally has spent the majority of her career outside of Washington, where, I might add, the majority of our interior is located,” Obama said, prompting laughter, “she is an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future…. 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.”

Jewell earned national recognition for her management skills and support for outdoor recreation and habitat conservation. She has less public policy experience than other candidates who had been under consideration, and she will still have to face Senate conformation.

If confirmed, she would take over at a time when many environmentalists are pressing the president to take bolder action on land conservation. Salazar devoted much of his tenure to both promoting renewable energy on public land and dealing with the BP Gulf Oil Disaster of 2010.

Facing congressional opposition and budget constraints during Obama’s first term, Salazar emphasized the importance of enlisting private sector, state and local support to protect major landscapes through America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. Jewell emerged as a strong advocate of the policy, and she’s likely to continue with that work. She introduced President Obama at the White House conference on “America’s Great Outdoor Initiative” in 2011, where she documented the fact that the $289 billion outdoor-recreation industry supports 6.5 million jobs.

The reaction from the environmental community is just coming in, but it appears positive.

“Whether it’s been through her work to get more kids outside or her accomplishments in building a business that recognizes the passion Americans have to explore the outdoors, Sally Jewell has demonstrated that she knows just how important our wild places are to our national legacy and our economy,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. “There are few more outspoken or dedicated champions in the effort to connect children with nature than Sally Jewell, who has provided critical support to the Sierra Club Inner City Outings program and played an integral role in founding the Outdoors Alliance for Kids.”

“In Jewell, President Obama chose a leader with a demonstrated commitment to preserving the higher purposes public lands hold for all Americans – recreation, adventure, and enjoyment,” Brune said. “We look forward to working closely with her to preserve more of those benefits and more of our natural heritage by designating new national monuments, protecting America’s Arctic from risky drilling, and keeping dirty and dangerous fracking out of our public lands.”

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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