Is Obama’s Pick of REI CEO Sally Jewell For Interior Secretary an Enviro Win?

An enthusiasm for conservation, business savvy and a tenure with the oil industry — does Jewell please both the right and the left?

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This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

A surprise nomination was announced today to lead the Interior Department and replace outgoing secretary Ken Salazar — Sally Jewell. Since 2005 Jewell has been CEO of the $2 billion a year outdoor clothing and gear store REI. Before that, Huffington Post reports, “Jewell worked in commercial banking and as an engineer for Mobil Oil Corp.”

The New York Times reported that Jewell is a graduate of the University of Washington where she studied mechanical engineering. And she’s got some green credentials, “She received the 2009 Rachel Carson Award for environmental conservation from the Audubon Society; the 2008 Nonprofit Director of the Year award from the National Association of Corporate Directors, and The Green Globe — Environmental Catalyst Award from King County, Wash., among others,” John M. Broder reported for the Times.

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An enthusiasm for conservation, business savvy and a tenure with the oil industry — does Jewell have it all? Or enough, anyway, to please both the left and the right and be confirmed?

So far the response from the environmental community has been positive. Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers said:

Sally Jewell knows that clean, healthy rivers and protected public lands are the infrastructure of the $289 billion outdoor recreation industry that supports 6.5 million jobs. She knows how important fishing, boating, and hiking and the great outdoors are to our families, to our future, and to our heritage as Americans.

Michael Brune, director of the Sierra Club weighed in as well:

Whether it’s been through her work to get more kids outside or her accomplishments in building a business that recognizes the passion Americans have to explore the outdoors, Sally Jewell has demonstrated that she knows just how important our wild places are to our national legacy and our economy.

There are few more outspoken or dedicated champions in the effort to connect children with nature than Sally Jewell, who has provided critical support to the Sierra Club Inner City Outings program and played an integral role in founding the Outdoors Alliance for Kids.

In Jewell, President Obama chose a leader with a demonstrated commitment to preserving the higher purposes public lands hold for all Americans – recreation, adventure, and enjoyment. We look forward to working closely with her to preserve more of those benefits and more of our natural heritage by designating new national monuments, protecting America’s Arctic from risky drilling, and keeping dirty and dangerous fracking out of our public lands.

But it’s not just enviro groups that seem pleased. Hadley Malcolm reports for USA Today:

Several groups from the retail and energy industries have expressed support for Jewell's Cabinet nomination, such as the Retail Industry Leaders Association, where Jewell serves on the board of directors, and Western Energy Alliance, a nonprofit trade association of oil and natural gas companies.

"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," Western Energy Alliance President Tim Wigley said.

We’ll see if interest groups are singing a different tune after Jewell’s confirmation hearings begin and we learn more about how she’d seek to manage public lands. 

Obama has led off his second term with the environment in the forefront, it’s not clear yet if Jewell will be the advocate that environmentalists hope she is if confirmed. On Monday outgoing EPA head Lisa Jackson was asked if she thought Obama was serious about tackling climate change and she replied, "I don't think you need clues. The president has been really clear ... I'm not sure how much clearer he could be."

And in France, Biden reinforced Obama’s commitment saying, “There is a need -- there is a need to set out a vision for the young people in both our countries that we understand -- we understand. It's a rallying cry that can be a call for a united effort and support in both our countries to deal with global warming.” 

Certainly the pick to head the Interior Department will have some influence over how our country tackles climate change — and how much power oil, gas, and coal companies are allowed. Jewell’s confirmation hearings should provide insightful as well as the rest of the nominations for Obama's cabinet.

Tara Lohan is a freelance writer and former senior editor at AlterNet. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis, including Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource. Follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan.