The Senate approved Sally Jewell to be the next Interior Secretary on Wednesday, placing her atop an agency at the center of intense political battles over energy throughout President Obama’s tenure.
Lawmakers voted 87-11 to approve Jewell to run the department that oversees conservation, recreation, oil-and-gas drilling and other uses on vast swaths of federal land. Eleven Republicans opposed her nomination.
Jewell, who lives in Seattle, is the head of outdoor gear giant REI, Inc. Before taking the REI job, she spent two decades working in the banking industry and began her career as an engineer for Mobil Oil Corp. (before its merger with Exxon).
“Outdoor recreation is now a major economic generator for our country,” Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said ahead of her vote. “That’s why I’m especially enthused today to recommend Sally Jewell to head the Department of Interior. … You can’t run a multi-billion dollar company like REI without being able to bring people together and anticipating some of the trends that lie ahead.”
GOP Sens. Mike Johanns (Neb.), Deb Fischer (Neb.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), David Vitter (La.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Mike Lee (Utah), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) voted against Jewell's nomination.
Republicans and petroleum industry groups say the Obama administration has placed too many restrictions on oil-and-gas drilling and other commercial development, battles likely to continue under Jewell, who replaces outgoing Secretary Ken Salazar.
But Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the top Republican on the Senate’s energy committee, said she was hopeful that Jewell would work with all sides in various battles over Interior policy. Murkowski said that the most important role of the Interior Secretary is being a “landlord” since Interior owns a large portion of U.S. land.
“I think we recognize as westerners that this is a position that has great meaning to our states, so we pay attention to who is the Secretary of Interior,” Murkowski said. “Really the most prominent role is being a landlord … and we need to trust our landlord.”
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved Jewell with a bipartisan 19-3 vote last month.