President Obama has selected Sally Jewell, the chief executive of Recreational Equipment Inc., to lead the Interior Department, White House officials said Wednesday. If confirmed, Jewell, a former oil company official, will assume responsibility for the stewardship of hundreds of millions of acres of public lands.
Jewell would replace Ken Salazar, who has led the department since the beginning of the Obama administration. Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, was elected to the Senate in 2004, the same year as Mr. Obama.
A native of the Seattle area and a graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in mechanical engineering, Jewell has been a lifelong outdoors enthusiast. She received the 2009 Rachel Carson Award for environmental conservation from the Audubon Society; the 2008 Nonprofit Director of the Year award from the National Association of Corporate Directors, and The Green Globe — Environmental Catalyst Award from King County, Wash., among others.
Jewell took over REI in 2005 and the company has seen steady growth under her tenure. REI now boasts roughly $2 billion a year in sales.
In 2011, she introduced President Obama at the White House conference on “America’s Great Outdoor Initiative,” noting that the $289 billion outdoor-recreation industry is the source of 6.5 million jobs.
According to the New York Times, Jewell is expected to face vigorous questioning during confirmation hearings about her approach to resource development on public lands. Republicans in Congress have criticized the Obama administration for holding back public lands from oil and gas leasing and from imposing overly restrictive regulations on hydraulic fracturing and other extraction methods.
White House aides said that Jewell’s engineering background and experience as a Mobil Oil executive could help blunt some of that criticism.