News Column

Jewell Confirmed to Lead Interior Department

April 10, 2013

The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Sally Jewell as the new secretary of the interior Wednesday, sending the REI chief executive to the helm of sprawling agency grappling with major decisions ranging from Arctic oil exploration to protection for the lesser prairie chicken.

The 87-11 vote came three weeks after Jewell's nomination passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a 19-3 vote and two months after President Obama made her the first woman picked for his second-term cabinet.

Jewell, 57, is expected to be sworn in at the White House as early as Thursday and immediately replace Ken Salazar, who resigned to return to his ranch in Colorado.

Jewell's lifelong interest conservation issues has environmentalists hopeful that she will build on Salazar's advocacy for public lands.

"She understands the value of these lands" for recreational economy, said Brady Robinson of Access Fund, a nonprofit outdoors-advocacy group in Boulder, Colo. "If there weren't people hiking, REI wouldn't be a whatever billion-dollar company it is."

Jewell skirted potential controversy during her confirmation hearing, including dodging any direct statement on whether she supports a tax on carbon. Nonetheless, a slew of tough issues awaits in her new job. Just two weeks after Jewell's testimony, for instance, Salazar under pressure announced he would reconsider an earlier decision by the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service to block a proposed road through Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

In addition, environmentalists are urging the Interior Department to halt offshore oil drilling in the Arctic, where Shell Oil has run into series of equipment mishaps and accidents. Shell has voluntarily suspended drilling off the Alaska coast for this year; on Tuesday, ConocoPhillips also said it would not drill there in 2014 because of regulatory uncertainty.

The Interior Department has said it will not allow Shell to resume drilling in Alaska's Chukchi and Beaufort seas unless it addresses safety concerns.

And this fall, the Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide whether to declare the sage grouse as endangered, a move opposed by the oil industry because it would put 2,600 square miles of habitat off-limits to energy exploration.


(c)2013 The Seattle Times

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Source: Copyright Seattle Times (WA) 2013

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