Obama nominates REI CEO as new Interior secretary

This story was updated Feb. 6.

US President Barack Obama has nominated Sally Jewell, Recreational Equipment Inc. chief executive officer, to succeed US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar.

“Even as Sally spent the majority of her career outside of Washington,…she is an expert on the climate and energy issues that will build our future,” the president said in a formal announcement ceremony at the White House.

The choice brings someone with more business than political experience to Interior’s helm and caught some oil and gas associations by surprise. Jewell began her professional career in 1978, however, as a Mobil Oil Corp. engineer in Colorado and Oklahoma.

As he introduced her, Salazar said Jewell’s oil and gas experience served her well when she worked in commercial banking before joining REI as its chief operating officer in 2000. She subsequently became its chief executive officer and became involved in several Pacific Northwest land conservation organizations.

“I like where I am now,” Jewell said. “But there’s no role that compares in the chance to serve my country as Interior secretary. I’m humbled and energized by this opportunity, and look forward to meeting members of the Senate as they consider my nomination in the next few weeks.”

Salazar said, “Sally Jewell knows first-hand the inextricable link between conservation and the economy. She was a key contributor in the creation of America’s Great Outdoors Agenda and a champion of land and water conservation fund. I also know her successful experience as an oil and gas engineer will serve her well as she implements [the president’s] all-of-the-above energy agenda, which has been a keystone in the last 4 years.”

'Unique perspective'

Several oil and gas, as well as environmental, organizations responded as word of Obama’s choice leaked out before the official announcement.

Tim Wigley, president of the Western Energy Alliance in Denver, applauded Obama’s apparent choice prior to the scheduled announcement the afternoon of Feb. 6. “Her experience as a petroleum engineer and business leader will bring a unique perspective to an office that is key to our nation’s energy portfolio,” Wigley said.

“We hope to see a better balance of productive development on nonpark, nonwilderness public lands that enhances the wealth of America and creates jobs while protecting the environment,” he indicated.

National Ocean Industries Association Pres. Randall B. Luthi called the selection “a bit of a surprise” that offshore oil and gas and other companies will likely view cautiously.

“We look forward to hearing about her energy vision for America during the confirmation process,” he said. “We hope that her business and engineering experience will lead her to recognize the critical importance of our Nation’s offshore energy resources.”

Business background

American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard said API looks forward “to learning how Sally Jewel’s business background and experience in the oil and gas industry will shape her approach to the game-changing prospects before us in energy development.

“President Obama campaigned on implementing a true ‘all-of-the-above’ energy plan for America,” Gerard continued. “This opportunity could create millions of new jobs here at home and generate hundreds of billions of dollars to the federal government at a time we need it most.”

Independent Petroleum Association of America Pres. Barry Russell said while IPAA does not know Jewell personally, “we will be anxious to learn more during the confirmation process about her background in entrepreneurship, finance and energy production.”

Jewell joined REI, a Sumner, Wash.-based outer recreation supplies retailer, in 2000 as chief operating officer after working for several years in commercial banking. She subsequently became its chief executive and became involved in several Pacific Northwest land conservation organizations.

Environmental groups applauded her reported nomination. “Sally Jewell has the mind of an engineer, the heart of an environmentalist, and the know-how of a businesswoman,” Natural Resources Defense Council Pres. Frances Beineke noted.

"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,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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