By Terence Houston, ESA science policy analyst
President Obama’s second-term pick for Secretary of Interior sparked tempered optimism from both sides of the aisle this week. With a strong background in both conservation and the business industry, it is hoped that nominee Sally Jewell will be able to bridge the divide between constituencies that prioritize environmental stewardship with those that prioritize energy development.
The Department of Interior encompasses a diverse set of bureaus including the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Geological Survey. In addition to overseeing public lands, the new Interior Secretary is expected to be entrenched in policymaking regarding contentious issues involving mineral development, oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing over the course of President Obama’s second term.
Jewell is unconventional in the sense that she lacks the political background of many of her predecessors. However, what she lacks in direct policymaking is made up for with a unique combination of high level professional industry savvy and a personal passion for the outdoors. Her business background includes two decades in corporate banking, having worked for Rainer Bank, Security Pacific, WestOne Bank and Washington Mutual from 1981-2000. She also spent time as an engineer for Exxon Mobile (1978-81). In 2005, she became CEO of Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) after having been its chief operating officer since 2000. She also serves on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).
Jewell bikes to work every day and is an avid hiker, having once led a group of women to the top of Mt. Rainer, Washington.. She’s also spent a month climbing the mountains of Antarctica. Her outdoor exercise portfolio stands to make her the fittest high-profile member of the executive branch. (Lookout, Michelle Obama!)
Jewell has contributed to the Outdoor Industry Association’s Political Action Committee, which has supported environmentally-friendly Democrats and Republicans, including Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Mike Simpson (R-ID), who notably serves as Chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which drafts the annual bill to fund the agency she would oversee. Past personal donations include President Obama’s re-election campaign, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) (her two Senators), Mark Udall (D-CO), Mark Begich (D-AK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will hold her confirmation hearing.
Immediate reactions from key Senate leaders suggest Jewell will get a fair confirmation hearing. “Sally Jewell is an inspired choice to lead the Interior Department. Her experience leading a nearly $2 billion outdoor recreation company, combined with her years of work in the financial sector, puts her in a position to bring a new vision to the Interior Department,” said Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) in a press statement. “Her record shows that she understands the importance of preserving our public lands for future generations, as well as the critical links between public lands, natural resources and economic growth.”
Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) gave a considerably more reserved statement: “So many of the decisions made by the Interior Secretary have a profound impact on Alaska, and other Western states,” Murkowski said. “The livelihoods of Americans living and working in the West rely on maintaining a real balance between conservation and economic opportunity. I look forward to hearing about the qualifications Ms. Jewell has that make her a suitable candidate to run such an important agency, and how she plans to restore balance to the Interior Department.” Ranking Member Murkowski is considering holding up Jewell’s nomination, nonetheless, over a dispute with the Department of Interior over whether to allow a road through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to ease accessibility of King Cove residents to an all-weather airport in Cold Bay for weather evacuations.
While conservation groups were generally elated over the pick of Jewell, industry and energy development groups’ generally included mostly reserved judgment: “We look forward to learning how Sally Jewell’s business background and experience in the oil and natural gas industry will shape her approach to the game-changing prospects before us in energy development,” stated American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard.
Confirmation hearings for Ms. Jewell have yet to be announced. Current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will be leaving his post at the end March.
Photo Credit: The White House