By Ros Krasny
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sally Jewell, a retail executive and outdoor enthusiast, is President Barack Obama's pick to oversee the national parks and vast energy reserves on public lands as U.S. interior secretary.
Obama nominated Jewell, chief executive of outdoor retailer REI, on Wednesday, calling her an "expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future" as well as a savvy executive who understands the link between conservation and economic progress.
Jewell is the first woman chosen to join Obama's second-term Cabinet, which has been criticized as lacking diversity.
"I am humbled and I'm energized by this opportunity," Jewell said in a brief White House ceremony, where she was introduced by outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Her background, which includes a stint as an oil company engineer, won praise from conservationists and some industry groups, but Jewell's nomination drew skepticism from some Republicans.
"I look forward to hearing about the qualifications Ms. Jewell has that make her a suitable candidate to run such an important agency, and how she plans to restore balance to the Interior Department," said U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Murkowski has criticized the department, including its decision in December to open about half the vast National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska's North Slope to drilling, which she said was not enough.
David Vitter of Louisiana, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he wanted to learn Jewell's views on the administration's five-year offshore oil leasing plan, which he has argued should allow for expanded drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Jewell, 56, has been a leader in land conservation in the Pacific Northwest, but she worked in the energy and banking sectors earlier in her career.
Besides managing the U.S. National Park Service, the Interior Department oversees about a fifth of the nation's land mass and vast offshore oil fields.
Interior has a strong say in rules that govern hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands as well as drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic. It will help implement the president's push for more renewable energy development on federal land.
EXPERIENCE IN FINANCE
Jewell joined Recreational Equipment Inc as a board member in 1996 before taking over as chief operating officer in 2000 and then later as CEO of the national retail chain.
A graduate of the University of Washington, where she now serves as a regent, Jewell began her career as an engineer at Mobil Oil Corp, working in Oklahoma and Colorado.
At Washington's Rainier National Bank in the early 1980s, she gained a reputation for rejecting risky loans to the oil and gas sector, inoculating the bank from a string of failures when the Oklahoma and Texas oil boom went bust.
"Her experience as a petroleum engineer and business leader will bring a unique perspective to an office that is key to our nation's energy portfolio," the Western Energy Alliance said in a statement.
Jewell's recognition from many environmental groups, and the reputation of Washington state-based REI for conservation and environmental stewardship efforts, seemed certain to draw attention.
"We're not going to get excited that she's suddenly going to change course from the current anti-energy policies of the Obama administration," said Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Continued...