If Sally Jewell were an REI product, she would be a top-end utility tool — sharp, durable, innovative, good for any occasion and sport.
She is President Obama’s excellent pick to head the massive U.S. Department of Interior.
Jewell, a longtime Seattle-area resident, has succeeded as an oil industry engineer, a banker, a corporate executive at REI, a regent of her alma mater, the University of Washington, and as an advocate for preserving the waters and wildlands that define her home state.
Should the U.S. Senate confirm Jewell, she brings strong management skills to a massive job that makes her, by and large, landlord of the Western United States.
Interior manages one-fifth of the U.S. land mass — 500 million acres — plus 1.7 billion undersea acres of the outer continental shelf. Oversight of 479 dams, the National Park System and the educational system for more than 40,000 Native American children fall to her.
Her political challenge lies with energy exploration on public lands. The Obama administration has granted drilling leases on 6 million acres of public land — too few for drill-first Republicans, too many for conservationists such as President Clinton’s Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
In December, outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar opened half — 11.8 million acres — of the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope to drilling. But Jewell should proceed with extreme caution with further Alaska drilling, particularly offshore, and complete a review of Shell’s troubled Arctic drilling efforts.
Jewell’s appointment was greeted warmly by Western Energy Alliance, a group representing independent oil and natural-gas producers, because she once worked in their industry. But Jewell has even stronger affiliation with conservation, boosting REI’s reliance on green energy and serving on the board of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.
Jewell’s record is assurance she will expertly navigate these issues. She has climbed Mount Rainier several times and is a seasoned sailor. REI nearly doubled sales, and added 71 stores, in her eight years at the retailer.
Having a member of Seattle’s Gore-Tex intelligentsia in power in Washington, D.C., is good for the nation.