Obama nominates REI chief executive Jewell for Interior secretary

President Obama on Wednesday nominated Sally Jewell, the CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), to succeed Ken Salazar as secretary of the Interior.

Jewell becomes the first woman tapped for Obama’s second-term Cabinet. The decision to nominate a woman comes after accusations that the president did not have enough women serving in his top posts.

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Salazar announced last month that he would step down as Interior secretary by the end of March.

Salazar overhauled the federal government's offshore drilling regulation in the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill, and has frequently clashed with Republicans over energy policies that administration critics call too restrictive.

Jewell, who will need to be confirmed by the Senate to succeed Salazar, previously worked as an engineer at Mobil Oil Corp. and as a banker prior to joining REI.


Jewell is a founding member of the board of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and has advocated for land conservation policies in Washington state, where she lives, and nationally.

Although Jewell has ties with the Democratic Party, in 2008 she appeared with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during his presidential run. McCain praised Jewell's work on the environment at the event.

Interior carries out big portions of U.S. energy policy.

The department regulates energy development on federal lands and waters, and Republicans and petroleum industry groups say the administration has placed too many restrictions on oil-and-gas drilling.

Salazar has defended the administration’s commitment to drilling, but has also made fostering development of solar power and other renewable sources on federal lands a top priority.

Jewell, if confirmed, will inherit a series of thorny political and policy battles. For instance, Interior is crafting rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing – the controversial oil-and-gas development method – on federal lands.

Elsewhere, Interior officials are weighing whether to allow Royal Dutch Shell to resume efforts to drill in Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast.

The choice represents something of a surprise – Jewell's name has not been among those most frequently mentioned in the Beltway rumor mill as a potential replacement for Salazar.

But the selection is consistent with the Obama administration’s efforts to cast conservation and outdoor recreation industries as economic drivers.

The Interior nomination is part of a wider overhaul of the administration’s energy and environment team. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson have both announced they’re leaving as well.

Neera Tanden, president of the liberal Center for American Progress, praised Jewell over Twitter, saying that it’s “great to have a woman business leader who has led a progressive company.”

The National Parks Conservation Association called the selection “great news.”

Obama's choice also drew praise from an oil-and-gas industry group that has been critical of White House energy policies.

The Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil-and-gas drillers in Western states where Interior is a major landowner, cited Jewell's petroleum industry background.

“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," said Tim Wigley, the group's president. "We hope to see a better balance of productive development on non-park, non-wilderness public lands that enhances the wealth of America and creates jobs while protecting the environment."

This post was last updated at 2:38 p.m.