Senate OKs REI boss for Interior secretary

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday approved REI Chief Executive Sally Jewell as the new secretary of the Interior by a vote of 87 to 11.

Jewell, 58, had faced tough questioning by some Senate Republicans during her confirmation hearing in early March. But in comparison to some Obama Cabinet nominees, she sailed through the committee and full Senate votes.

A true Washington outsider, Jewell began her career as a petroleum engineer before moving into banking and, finally, taking the helm of REI, the outdoor equipment retail chain headquartered in Washington state.

Jewell’s long history in the private sector won over some Republicans, including Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander. But others questioned whether she would be open to expanded oil and gas drilling on federal lands, given her long service on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association, an environmental group.

As the new Interior secretary, Jewell will have to balance the competing and sometimes opposing demands of protecting public lands and managing the resources they hold, whether open space for solar farms or rich deposits of minerals and fossil fuels.

Her predecessor, Ken Salazar, frustrated environmentalists and industry alike. Environmentalists pilloried the Interior Department for opening the Arctic Ocean to oil drilling by the Shell Oil Company. On the flip side, oil companies and their congressional allies criticized Salazar for enacting a temporary moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said of Jewell: “She made clear in her confirmation hearing that she intends to strike a balance between the dual roles of conserving and developing resources. That’s exactly the right approach to take on the diverse issues facing Interior, including safely developing natural gas, maximizing jobs and opportunities from recreation and improving management of federal forests.”

On Wednesday, the Obama administration proposed a $12 billion budget for the Interior Department that would funnel money to developing renewable energy and conventional sources alike. It also called for spending on climate change adaptation measures and research into hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

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