President Obama’s choice to take over at the Department of the Interior comes from the business world. Sally Jewell is the CEO of outdoor equipment supplier REI.
“For Sally, the toughest part of this job will probably be sitting behind a desk,” the president said when introducing his nominee Wednesday. “I suspect she’ll want to get out of the office quite a bit.”
Before Jewell took the reigns at REI, she worked in the financial industry at Washington Mutual. Before that, she was an engineer in the oil business, with Mobil.
One thing not on her resume: government work — something Obama pointed out when he announced her nomination.
“Even as Sally spent the majority of her career outside of Washington — where, I might add, the majority of our interior is located — she is an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future,” he said. “She is committed to building our nation-to-nation relationship with Indian Country. She knows the link between conservation and good jobs. 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.”
It’s the interior secretary’s job to referee bitter struggles over natural resources, such as the current controversy over drilling for oil off the northern coast of Alaska. Usually, the job goes to a Western politician — someone with a track record on these issues. So the president’s nomination of a relatively obscure CEO has left some of the key players unsure of how to react.
“I was kind of surprised. I was not expecting Ms. Jewell to get this,” says Tim Wigley, who heads the Western Energy Alliance, a group representing oil and gas producers.
Even though their business is booming right now, they want to see more drilling on public lands, and Wigley sees reason for hope in the fact that Jewell started her career in the Oklahoma oil fields.
“Clearly, her background, being a petroleum engineer — we hope that we’ll be able to work with the administration and try to get some production up, particularly on federal and public lands out West,” he says.