Obama Names Washington Outsider, Sally Jewell, to Lead Interior Department

President Obama on Wednesday nominated Sally Jewell, a former oil engineer and banker and current chief executive of a national outdoor retailer, to lead the Interior Department, making an unorthodox pick for his first woman nominee to his second-term Cabinet.

Pictured: President Obama nominated Sally Jewell, the chief executive of Recreational Equipment Inc., to lead the Interior Department on Wednesday. At right is the outgoing interior secretary, Ken Salazar.

The president and CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc., Jewell has no government and little public policy experience, and has spent her career far from Washington. But her resume has elements that appealed to both of the two feuding interests that consume much of the debate at the department that controls public lands: the oil and gas extraction industries seeking access to public lands, as well as environmentalists seeking to preserve them.

Jewell, 56, started her career as a petroleum engineer working in the oil fields of Oklahoma and Colorado for Mobil Oil Corp. She then moved to the corporate banking industry, and joined the REI board in 1996,  becoming chief operating officer four years later.

She has been credited with expanding the Washington state-based retailer's Internet operations and contributing the membership cooperative's resources to environmental stewardship. Jewell, an avid outdoorswoman, serves on the board of the National Parks Conservation Assn. as well as the Board of Regents of the University of Washington.

In announcing his choice, Obama cast her as someone who would seek a balance between protection and economic development of public lands. 

"She knows the link between conservation and good jobs," Obama said in remarks at the White House. "She knows that there's no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress, that in fact, those two things need to go hand-in-hand. She's shown that a company with more than $1 billion in sales can do the right thing for our planet."

In fact, little is known about Jewell's policy positions. And while environmental groups largely praised her nomination, Republicans and some Democrats withheld judgment.

"The livelihoods of Americans living and working in the West rely on maintaining a real balance between conservation and economic opportunity," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking member of the Senate committee on energy and national resources.  "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."

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