Jewell, who lacks the political experience of previous interior secretaries, will be challenged to rebuild a national consensus over protecting public lands. But friends and colleagues describe her as a pragmatic business leader who could work with both parties and interest groups on all sides.
Many environmentalists and oil and gas industry officials greeted her nomination with cautious optimism Wednesday, saying she could reconnect Americans to their outdoors heritage without stifling drilling and mining operations on land and off shore.
Introducing her at the White House, Obama emphasized that Jewell “has spent the majority of her career outside of Washington, where, I might add, the majority of our interior is located.”
She has proven, he added, that one can reconcile economic growth and environmental protection.
“She knows the link between conservation and good jobs,” Obama said. “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.”
Jewell, 56, who has spent most of her life in the Seattle area, is an avid climber and hiker who scaled Antarctica’s highest peak two years ago and has repeatedly climbed Washington state’s Mt. Rainier. Doug Walker, who served on the board of REI with Jewell, said she “walks the talk. . . . Sally is not fooling you here. She really does this stuff.”
Walker, who chairs the board of the Wilderness Society, described Jewell as a “can-do, activist-type manager” who will focus on inspiring Americans to care about public lands. The biggest challenge that conservationists face is “really reconnecting these federal lands to the broad swatch of American people, not just elderly white people,” Walker said.
Jewell has advised Republican and Democratic administrations alike on how to enlist more Americans in outdoor activities, most recently helping chart a plan for the U.S. National Park Service’s future while she served on the National Parks Second Century Commission.
Obama touted his nominee’s experience working for Mobil Oil in the late 1970s and the early ’80s, noting that Jewell was a University of Washington undergraduate studying to be a dentist when she “realized her boyfriend’s homework was more interesting than hers, and she decided to become an engineer” and “went on to work in the oil fields of Oklahoma and Colorado.”
Tim Wigley, president of the Western Energy Alliance, said he hoped that time in the fields would translate into expanded oil and gas drilling on federal lands. “We hope to see a better balance of productive development on non-park, non-wilderness public lands that enhances the wealth of America and creates jobs while protecting the environment,” he said.