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A Washington CEO as Interior Secretary?

PHOTO: Sally Jewell, the current CEO of Seattle-based outdoor retailer REI, is President Obama's new nominee for Secretary of the Interior. Courtesy of REI, Inc.
February 8. 2013
PHOTO: Sally Jewell, the current CEO of Seattle-based outdoor retailer REI, is President Obama's new nominee for Secretary of the Interior. Courtesy of REI, Inc.

SEATTLE – Most people know the company name better than its president's. REI, the outdoor retail giant, is headed by Sally Jewell of Seattle, at least for now.

President Barack Obama has nominated Jewell to be the next U.S. Interior Secretary.

REI is a member of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, where executive director Joanna Grist says Jewell knows how to balance sustainability and profitability. Jewell has had previous career experience as a banker, and in the oil industry.

"There can be a good balance with understanding the impact that that industry can have on public lands, while recognizing that the outdoor industry benefits tremendously from public lands,” Grist says. “So, knowing both sides, I think is critical."

During Jewell's time at REI, the outdoor retailer has doubled its sales, and in 2011, it launched an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy use and waste sent to landfills. Jewell worked to protect public lands along the I-90 corridor across the Cascades, and was on the national board for America's Great Outdoors Initiative.

Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has predicted Jewell will have an easy time being confirmed by the Senate. But at least one group of Washingtonians is hoping he isn't quite done yet. Asha Lela, who chairs Islanders for a National Monument, says the group has been waiting for years for federal protections for a small but historic part of the San Juan Islands. Lela says at least Sally Jewell is familiar with them.

"The wonderful thing about her coming in is that she doesn't have to be educated about this area,” Lela says. “She knows the beauty. She knows the recreational value. However, it would be more wonderful if Salazar finished up his legacy and declared the national monument before he left."

Salazar visited the San Juans twice as Interior Secretary, but no national monument has resulted. If confirmed, Jewell would be the first Interior Secretary in years to come from a recreation background, instead of the political arena.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA