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Land | Environment

New Head Of Interior Adjusts To New Role

Sally Jewell’s transition from CEO of REI to head of the Interior Department in Washington D.C. has required her to make more than a few changes.

Some of them are personal. Consider this: Unlike cool and mild Seattle where she used to live, Washington D.C. is hot and sticky. Now, Jewell is living in a row house with flower pots on the roof. And yes, the accomplished mountaineer says, she misses the Cascades.

“Oh totally, are you kidding me?” Jewell says. But she’s quick to express her admiration for what pass for mountains near her new home town. “I’ve been to some lovely mountains in the East. It’s just that they used to be taller than the mountains in the West, but they got worn off.”

sally jewell 20130523
Sally Jewell

Jewell is in the midst of her first return to the Northwest since she was sworn in April 12 as the 51st interior secretary. She made a two-appearance stop in Portland. At her first event on Thursday, Jewell announced roughly $4 million in grants to give young people summer jobs in conservation and trail building work.

On Friday she was joined by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber at a signing ceremony for an agrement to speed up permitting of energy generation and power transmission in the Northwest.

As interior secretary, Jewell is now the county’s top steward of more than 700 million acres of forest, rangeland, and offshore oil and gas leases controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM.

But during her first short press conference in Portland, Jewell revealed little about how she will strike a balance between conservation and energy development on those lands.

Jewell’s portfolio includes vast reserves of federal coal on BLM land in Wyoming and Montana. Those federal coal leases have sparked controversy after companies have proposed building new terminals in the Northwest to export the coal to Asia.

“The coal export issue goes well beyond just the resource part that we have and I think that public engagement is very important in that process to understand what all the issues are so they can be out on the table and transparently discussed,” she said when asked about the issue by an activist with Columbia Riverkeeper.

Jewell ended the press conference after just four questions. She was eager to pick up a shovel and lend a hand removing invasive grasses from the Oak’s Bottom Wildlife Refuge.

“I feel kind of silly with all these cameras on me,” she said. “Can’t I just pull weeds?”

It started to rain, but that Jewell seemed used to.

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