WASHINGTON — President Obama has selected Sally Jewell, the chief executive of Recreational Equipment Inc., to lead the Interior Department, White House officials said Wednesday.
If confirmed, Ms. Jewell, a former oil company official and longtime advocate for conservation and outdoor recreation, will take over a department that has been embroiled in controversy over regulation of oil and gas on public lands and waters in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Arctic Ocean. She also will assume responsibility for the stewardship of hundreds of millions of acres of public lands, from the Everglades of Florida to the Cascades of Washington State.
Ms. Jewell, who also worked as a banker, took over REI in 2005, when the company was one of the most successful outdoor outfitters in the country. The company has grown rapidly under her tenure and now boasts roughly $2 billion a year in sales.
She will replace Ken Salazar, who has led the department since the beginning of the Obama administration. Mr. Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, was elected to the Senate in 2004, the same year as Mr. Obama.
Ms. Jewell, a native of the Seattle area and a graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in mechanical engineering, has been a lifelong outdoors enthusiast. As a child she sailed in Puget Sound and camped throughout the Pacific Northwest, according to a 2005 profile in the Seattle Times.
In 2011, she introduced President Obama at the White House conference on “America’s Great Outdoor Initiative,” noting that the $289 billion outdoor-recreation industry is the source of 6.5 million jobs.
She received the 2009 Rachel Carson Award for environmental conservation from the Audubon Society; the 2008 Nonprofit Director of the Year award from the National Association of Corporate Directors, and The Green Globe — Environmental Catalyst Award from King County, Wash., among others.
She is expected to face vigorous questioning during confirmation hearings about her approach to resource development on public lands. Republicans in Congress have criticized the Obama administration for holding back public lands from oil and gas leasing and from imposing overly restrictive regulations on hydraulic fracturing and other extraction methods.
White House aides said that Ms. Jewell’s engineering background and experience as a Mobil Oil executive could help blunt some of that criticism.
Ms. Jewell will also face scrutiny from environmental and conservation advocates who will want to know her approach to preservation of public lands. Just Tuesday, Bruce Babbitt, the interior secretary under President Bill Clinton, criticized Mr. Obama as favoring oil and gas leasing over protection of government-owned lands.
“So far under President Obama, industry has been winning the race as it obtains more and more land for oil and gas,” Mr. Babbitt said. “Over the past four years, the industry has leased more than 6 million acres, compared with only 2.6 million acres permanently protected.”
“This lopsided public land administration in favor of the oil and gas industry cannot continue,” he said.
The Interior Department post has traditionally gone to a politician from the Western United States, like Mr. Salazar and Mr. Babbitt, a former governor of Arizona. Under President George W. Bush Gale A. Norton, a former attorney general of Colorado, and Dirk Kempthorne, a former governor and senator from Idaho, served in the position. Ms. Jewell, if confirmed, would represent a different model, a corporate executive with experience in two of the major missions of the department, resource development and conservation.
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