Today, President Obama announced his choice to replace Ken Salazar as Secretary of Interior. The President picked Sally Jewell, the current head of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI). REI is a well-known retail outfitter based in Seattle, Washington. The President had a number of excellent options available to him and we salute the selection of Ms. Jewell. If confirmed by the Senate, Ms. Jewell will face a number of critical decisions related to the competing interests of expanding oil and gas development on public lands while preserving those lands for future generations.
At yesterday’s National Press Club briefing, former Clinton Administration Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt suggested that the next Interior Department head issue a land conservation to lease ratio of 1:1. That is, for every acre the Federal Government leases to the oil and gas industry for drilling, we should set aside one acre for conservation. During the first four years of President Obama’s tenure, the industry leased more than 6 million acres, compared to just 2.6 million set aside for preservation.
Ms. Jewell has an outstanding reputation as a committed outdoors enthusiast. REI also emphasizes stewardship of our natural resources as an essential component of their corporate mission. This includes providing small grants, equipment, and outdoor classes to local conservation organizations and community groups.
If confirmed, Ms Jewell’s conservation ethic will face a number of serious tests. Besides decisions surrounding leasing land for oil and gas drilling, the next Interior Secretary will advise the President on mineral withdrawals, like part of Oregon’s Wild and Scenic Chetco River. She will lead the Department’s efforts on the Extraction Industry Transparency Initiative. And she may need to weigh in to protect sacred sites in Arizona and ensure that the mining industry does not receive any new, special perks — other than the ones they already receive under the outdated 1872 Mining Law!
Ultimately, the hope of the conservation community is that Ms. Jewell will keep the promise President Obama made during his recent Inauguration speech. That is, even in the absence of Congressional leadership, to use the powers of the Executive to preserve our precious public lands and natural resources for all to enjoy in perpetuity.