Sally Jewell, President Barack Obama's choice to replace Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, comes with a resume filled not only with big oil credentials but also with environmental street credibility. The top executive at outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment Inc has no government experience and yet comes to a job with historic divisions over allegiance. Her pro-business qualifications may give those in the energy sector something to rally around as they press harder for access to public lands. Energy hawks, however, have taken a wait-and-see approach. Environmentalists, meanwhile, lauded the choice because of her "love" for conservation. While boasting a resume that makes her tough to hate, it's likely a sign of further frustrations for the U.S. oil industry, however.
Obama this week introduced Jewell as his choice to replace Salazar, the latest in a long list of Cabinet officials heading for the exit doors for the president's second term. Obama touted the REI chief and former Marathon Oil Corp. engineer as a balanced choice.
"She knows the link between conservation and good jobs," he said. "She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress."
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Serving on the Board of Regents at the University of Washington, her alma mater, Jewell helped transform REI into a retail leader in outdoor gear. She also spent 19 years in the commercial banking sector after working as an engineer for Mobil Oil Corp. before it merged with Exxon.
Jack Gerard, chief executive officer at the American Petroleum Institute, sought to remind Jewell that more than 80 percent of the land controlled by the Interior Department is off-limits to oil and natural gas development. He said he wanted to hear how Jewell's work at Mobil would help shape the domestic oil and gas future. "American's energy revolution," he said, rests now in Jewell's hands.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, last week rolled out a 121-page energy blueprint that plays to API's interests. She echoed Obama's sentiment by saying that economic vitality depended in part on a balance between conservation and economic opportunity. Murkowski, however, said she was curious about what sort of qualifications Jewell has that would make her "a suitable candidate."
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The Natural Resources Defense Council, which described Murkowski's energy proposal as a "cut-and-paste-job" from the API's agenda, lauded Jewell's "love of America's outdoors" and looked forward to her campaign of environmental stewardship if confirmed.
"It’s not surprising President Obama would turn to such a talented woman to balance the responsible use of America’s public lands, the protection of these resources and the wildlife that depend on them," the NRDC fawned.
Comments from API's Gerard reflect long-standing frustration from the fossil fuels industry. With U.S. shale oil and natural gas redefining international energy markets, conservative critics of the Obama administration say now is the time to seize the moment of economic opportunity. Salazar last week announced that all of the unleased areas in the U.S. territorial waters of the Central Gulf of Mexico would go on the auction block for oil and gas drillers next month. That's likely a gift to groups like Gerard's as Jewell gets set to take the helm at the Interior Department. At REI, said Obama, Jewell shepherded donations of nearly $4 million to protect public parks last year alone.
"She has shown that a company with more than $1 billion in sales can do the right thing for our planet," he said.
By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com