Sally Jewell

REI CEO Sally Jewell will be nominated for Secretary of the Interior.

The Obama administration has announced that they will nominate Recreational Equipment Inc. Chief Executive Officer, Sally Jewell, to replace Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior:

Jewell is an outdoor enthusiast with a conservation background. But she has a mechanical engineering degree and worked for Mobil Oil, now Exxon Mobil, in Oklahoma and Colorado for three years after college. She also spent 19 years in the commercial banking industry before she became an executive for REI.

Among the banks Jewell worked for was Washington Mutual, where she was employed when the financial institution was growing rapidly from local savings bank to sub-prime lending giant, gobbling up eleven smaller banks along the way.

While at WaMu, Jewell became an REI board member, and progressed up to CEO.  I’ve read several favorable articles or member newsletters about her activities there.  I’ve been a member of the co-op since early 1966, when I joined to get some of their fine rock climbing rope and hardware.

At the time of her nomination, Jewell was still a board member of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, where my daughter Julia, an Americorps employee there, got to know her.

When I told Julia about the nomination, she was surprised: “Oh. My. God!”

Her impressions of Jewell are very positive.  She’s concerned that the nominee will get eaten alive in the cynical environment of the secretarial confirmation process.

Julia relates that Jewell has been very outspoken and public in her support of LBGT issues in Washington, and in the same-sex marriage initiative there.  She also had not heard any chatter in the Seattle area about Jewell being a possible nominee.  A lot of people had been talking up former Washington Governor, Christine Gregoire.

I thought Obama would probably nominate former Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, or Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Alaska reactions so far were recorded by Anchorage Daily News reporter, Sean Cockerham, in an article filed early this afternoon:

Drilling advocates in Congress said they wanted to know more. Jewell will face intensive questioning during her confirmation hearings from Republicans who argue that Obama hasn’t done enough for drilling on federal lands. 

“I look forward to hearing about the qualifications Ms. Jewell has that make her a suitable candidate to run such an important agency, and how she plans to restore balance to the Interior Department,” said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The oil industry offered a cautious response to the nomination. 

“We look forward to learning how Sally Jewell’s business background and experience in the oil and natural gas industry will shape her approach to the game-changing prospects before us in energy development,” said Jack Gerard, the chief executive officer of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s main trade group.

Whatever Murkowski means by “balance” in the DOI, I suspect she wants even more corporate access to national treasures than Obama has already given, which is far too much:

Conservation advocates hope that Jewell will do more for their cause than her predecessor as interior secretary, Ken Salazar, who’s stepping down after four years in the job under Obama.

Bruce Babbitt, the interior secretary under President Bill Clinton, said this week that the Obama administration had leased far too much land for oil and gas development compared with what had been permanently protected.

“This lopsided public land administration in favor of the oil and gas industry cannot continue,” Babbitt said.

Mountain state conservative, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) reacted predictably. He’s chairman of the House Natural Resources’ Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Subcommittee:

[Bishop] charged that REI “has intimately supported several special interest groups and subsequently helped to advance their radical political agendas.” When asked to elaborate, a Bishop spokeswoman pointed to REI’s support of groups such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Outdoor Industry Association, as well as REI’s promotion of a bill that would add wilderness protections to millions of acres of Utah lands.

Bishop’s news release also included a link to a years-old photo of Salazar outside an REI store in Denver during an announcement about Interior’s “Wild Lands” policy, a short-lived initiative that oil and gas supporters called an attack on energy production.

“Just remember, the secretary announced his horrible Wild Lands policy that we tried to force him to pull back, he did it in front if the REI offices in Denver,” Bishop told reporters. “So there is a history that makes me skeptical.”

I’m impressed by this nomination.  I was equally impressed back in late 2008, when Obama nominated Dr. Jane Luchenco to head NOAA, only to become, along with many others, sorely disappointed.

Photo by Fortune Live Media under Creative Commons license