Obama Taps REI Chief to Head Interior Department


sally jewell interior department nominee

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.”

{ 14 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Craig Rowe

    That is huge. Awesome, in fact. My only hope is that she can overcome those already conspiring against her. Washington is a nasty, long-toothed beast of deliberate bureaucracy. Go get ‘em.

  • Troy

    This is an interesting nomination. REI is certainly a company concerned with conservation. I wonder how well her experience will carry over from business to politics, especially with her past in the oil industry. Who and how does that provide an advantage? Being a resident of Utah with a lot of federal land at the center of the tug of war between public and private interests, I know first hand how ugly these management issues are.

  • M. John Fayhee

    I fear and loathe the hypocritical recreationization of public lands as much (and sometimes more) than I do the extractive industries. As one who does not worship at the altar of REI (by a long shot), this makes me very nervous.

  • Hayduke

    I’m with Fayhee. Let’s just hope she brings a true conservation agenda to the table, not just a human wreckreation-focused one.

  • Eric

    As long as during her tenure she can adopt a balance between a love of our outdoors/public lands and what will continue America’s long tradition of conservation/preservation, she’s ok by me.
    Beats the hell out of appointing another shady politician w/their own agenda who’s susceptible to being bought by lobbyists. She’s at least coming to the job w/the proper mindset. Let’s see what happens…..

  • Dan

    You’ll be in the backcountry minding your own business and some ranger will come nosing in to ask if you’re a member…

  • Eric

    I’m intrigued by Obama’s appointment of Jewell, but it’s good to keep in mind that she is a BUSINESSwoman and her responses to question in the past suggest she sees conservation through the lens of economics, not necessarily natural value or habitat protection. For instance, read her responses about climate change in this interview:

    http://www.forbes.com/2007/11/28/retail-rei-jewell-biz-beltway-cx_bw_1129rei.html

    Not saying she’s a bad choice, just that it might be too soon to celebrate.

  • Beatrice Kingsbury

    My question concerns the protection of our dwindling and under-seige wildlife. Will she be an advocate for wolves, polar bears, grizzlies, buffalo and many, many other animals now in deep trouble or will she side with the ranchers and hunters as Salazar did? I am especially worried about the all out assault on wolves and coyotes. Will she work to strengthen the Endangered Species Act or continue to gut it and make stupid and dangerous (to the animals) decisions when it comes to de-listing?

  • charles watkins

    @Beatrice: Each of those animals you cite carries with it its own unique story. Lumping them together in order to create a case for concern doesn’t do anything to speak to their actual real world success stories.

    For example:
    1. Buffalo are in no way in danger of much of anything… except maybe popularity. They’re recovering VERY well from their 140 year lull.
    2. Western Wolves from the reintroduction programs are actually doing incredibly well as well. Now, obviously there is concern on when to de-list them, but technically they’re going strong and honestly we should be encouraged to hear that they’re at least nearing a point where they’re ready for delisting… it’s evidence that the reintroductions are working.
    3. Polar Bears certainly have their work cut out for them, but they’re not under threat from people so much as they are the warming waters and warmer winters of the Arctic Ocean. That being the case, it might be a stretch to say they’re under siege from humanity…

    By now, no doubt you get the point i’m trying to make so I won’t belabor it. But I would like to say this; too often we forget to recognize our successes – or nature’s ability to bounce back and adapt to change.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>