Interior nominee Sally Jewell looks to strike a balance

REI Chief Executive Officer Sally Jewell (R) delivers remarks after being nominated by President Barack Obama to be the next Secretary of the Interior in the State Dining Room of the White House February 6, 2013.

President Obama this afternoon nominated a former petroleum engineer and conservationist as his new interior secretary. His nominee, Sally Jewell, has worn many hats, and the president says that’ll help her balance the need for development and preservation.

“She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress," he says. "That in fact those two things need to go hand-in-hand.”

Sally Jewell once spent a month climbing mountains in Antarctica. Thomas Kiernan is one of her climbing companions and head of the National Park Conservation Association. Jewell serves on the association’s board. Kiernan says he learned a lot about her character during a harrowing climb up Mount Rainier.

“And that was a great example in my mind of her judgment," he explains. "We could handle a little wind, we could handle some snow, a little bit of hail. But lightning, that’s over the top and we need to back down.”

Jewell’s experience with rocky terrain would come in handy at the Interior Department. Oil and natural gas companies are clamoring to drill more on public lands, which environmentalists want left untouched. But she’s got street cred with both sides.

Bob Irvin is president of American Rivers. He likes Jewell’s conservation credentials and the fact that she’s chief executive of REI, a retailer of outdoor gear. Irvin was just in an REI store a few months ago.

“I bought a new sleeping pad," he says. "For camping.”

Irvin says Jewell realized a clean environment was essential for REI’s bottom line. “She has experience as the leader of a company that depends on a healthy environment for its profitability.”

But energy producers also like Jewell’s experience. Kathleen Sgamma is with the Western Energy Alliance, a trade group for independent oil and gas companies. She points out that Jewell once worked as a petroleum engineer. Says Sgamma, “We’re hoping she understands that oil and natural gas development can be done in a very environmentally protective way.”

Sgamma says she’s “cautiously optimistic” about Jewell’s nomination.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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