February 6, 2013 7:37 pm

REI executive nominated as interior secretary

President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated Sally Jewell, an outdoor enthusiast and former ExxonMobil engineer, as his next interior secretary, making her the first woman to be selected for his second-term cabinet.

Part of Ms Jewell’s job, if confirmed, will be to oversee offshore drilling leases such as those held by BP, the British oil company punished after an explosion at one of its Gulf of Mexico rigs led to a devastating oil spill in 2010.

She would also have a big influence on rules that govern hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands and drilling in the Arctic.

Ken Salazar, the current interior secretary, promoted renewable power sources such as solar and wind during Mr Obama’s first term, and moved to strengthen regulations on oil and gas companies. He will step down by the end of March.

Ms Jewell would be a “strong and capable leader” of the interior department, Mr Obama said on Wednesday afternoon.

“She is an expert on energy and climate issues that are going to build our future . . . she knows the link between conservation and jobs,” he said, announcing her nomination. “Sally’s broad expertise and set of values I know are going to serve her well as she takes on these new challenges.”

Ms Jewell is currently chief executive of REI, the outdoor retailer that puts a heavy emphasis on conservation, and is a board member of the National Parks Conservation Association. She is an avid mountaineer and kayaker.

Ms Jewell introduced the president at the White House conference on “America’s Great Outdoor Initiative” in 2011, noting that the outdoor recreation industry was valued at $289bn and involved 6.5m jobs. She was also among the business leaders invited to the White House in 2009 in recognition of their efforts to lower their companies’ healthcare costs.

In depth

Washington in transition

staff fixes the presidential seal before US President Barack Obama gives a press conference

President Barack Obama prepares for his second term in the White House and assembling a new team

But she began her career as a petroleum engineer at ExxonMobil, working in the oilfields of Oklahoma and Colorado, before moving into banking.

Her nomination was widely praised by environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and by Senate Democrats, as well as some energy groups.

“Sally Jewell is an inspired choice to lead the interior department,” said Ron Wyden, Democratic chairman of the Senate’s energy and natural resources committee. “Her record shows that she understands the importance of preserving our public lands for future generations, as well as the critical links between public lands, natural resources and economic growth.”

Tim Wigley, president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents more than 400 companies, said that Ms Jewell’s “experience as a petroleum engineer and business leader will bring a unique perspective to an office that is key to our nation’s energy portfolio”.

But some Republicans voiced reservations.

Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate energy committee and a proponent, as a senator from Alaska, of arctic drilling, said: “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.”

Ms Jewell is the first woman to be nominated for a cabinet position in the post-election reshuffle and her appointment could help calm complaints that Mr Obama’s administration is dominated by men.

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