Panel OKs REI boss for Interior secretary

WASHINGTON — The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved President Obama’s pick to lead the Interior Department, REI chief executive Sally Jewell, sending the nomination to the full Senate for consideration.

At a time when several Obama Cabinet nominees have faced high hurdles during the confirmation process, Jewell sailed through the committee with a 19 to 3 vote. Republicans Mike Lee of Utah, Tim Scott of South Carolina and John Barrasso of Wyoming opposed her nomination.

Barrasso had questioned Jewell doggedly during the confirmation hearing a few weeks ago about her service on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association, an environmental group, an affiliation he cited in his decision to reject the nomination.

“NPCA has frequently sued the federal government to shut down energy production and has sought aggressive regulations that threaten American jobs,” Barrasso said. “I have asked Ms. Jewell whether she disagrees with NPCA’s positions. She testified that as vice chair she was unaware of the organization’s various positions and thus unable to say what positions she disagrees with. Well, that concerns me.”

The committee’s ranking minority member, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, had threatened to place a hold on Jewell’s nomination because of the Interior Department’s decision to reject a proposal Murkowski favors to build a road through a wildlife refuge in her state to a local airport. But Murkowski eventually backed Jewell after the Interior department agreed on Thursday to review the decision.

Like her predecessors at Interior, Jewell, 58, will have to balance competing demands on public lands for conservation and resource exploitation. During her confirmation hearing, Jewell hewed to administration talking points about achieving balance among various demands on public lands and pursuing an “all of the above” energy policy. She also underscored the growing focus on climate change during Obama’s second term.

Jewell is a true newcomer to Washington. Interior secretaries have traditionally been Western politicians, in part because most federal lands are in the West. But Jewell’s roots are in private industry and conservation.

Born in Britain and raised in Washington state, Jewell worked as an engineer in the oil industry after college before going into banking and then moving to REI, which she helped build into a $2 billion-a-year company. At the same time, she has worked on land conservation efforts and served on the board of trustees of the National Parks Conservation Association.

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