Well, this is huge. President Barack Obama has selected a corporate executive to run the Department of Interior, which oversees much of America’s public lands through the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and other agencies. The post has traditionally gone to Western politicians like outgoing chief Ken Salazar, but this time the pick is one of us: REI President and CEO Sally Jewell.
The 56-year-old Jewell took over the stewardship of REI in 2005, and since then the company’s sales have grown from around $900 million to $2 billion. She grew up sailing and camping and spent five weeks climbing in Antarctica. She’s won numerous awards for conservation and environmental work, including the 2009 Rachel Carson Award for environmental conservation from the Audubon Society, a track record that is sure to be touted by opponents. But prior to joining REI, Jewell worked in the banking industry for 20 years and before that she worked as an engineer for Mobil Oil, experience that should blunt criticism.
If confirmed, Jewell will take over an Interior facing a host contentious issues, most notably the struggle between protecting public lands and opening them to oil and gas exploration. Obama has come under criticism from the left for making too much public land open to drilling, while the right has criticized him for not opening enough. The Wild West/Gold Rush mentality surrounding fracking continues mostly unabated, despite environmental concerns. National parks are already strained by budget cuts, lack of manpower, and sagging infrastructure, a situation that will only worsen unless Congress and the White House get their financial house in order. And of course, there’s the impact of climate change on public lands, an issue Salazar did little to address.
A senior administration official told ABC News, “Conservation has been a central principal of Sally’s life, both personally and professionally. She believes deeply in the American tradition of preserving our nation’s wild places, while also understanding firsthand the inextricable link between conservation and the economy. She also believes we must be good stewards of our nation’s natural resources, underscoring the administration’s ongoing priority of expanding safe and responsible energy production, beginning her career as an engineer for Mobil Oil Corporation.”