President Obama's pick of Sally Jewell as his new interior secretary immediately drew praise from the environmental community and even some in the oil and gas sector.
But the CEO of outdoor merchandise giant REI Inc. already has spent years trying to shape federal policy through the court system, having been a part of numerous lawsuits ranging from attempts to keep concealed guns out of national parks to legal action against coal-fired power plants.
Some Republicans also claim that Ms. Jewell, a former banking executive who took REI from financial losses to record revenues, is too closely associated with environmental causes — such as Earth Justice and the Conservation Alliance — that are hostile to fossil fuels.
If confirmed as interior secretary, Ms. Jewell not only would be responsible for the nation's national parks, but also would oversee the vast fossil fuel deposits on and beneath those lands.
"While I certainly respect her business expertise … her company has intimately supported several special interest groups and subsequently helped to advance their radical political agendas," said Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican and chairman of a House subcommittee that oversees public lands.
During Ms. Jewell's time on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association, the group repeatedly sued the Interior Department and other federal agencies. The association in 2009 sued to keep loaded, concealed guns out of national parks. In 2011, it filed suit against the National Park Service — a part of the Interior Department — for exposing wilderness lands and panther habitats to off-road vehicle use.
Also in 2011, the group sued the Army Corps of Engineers for proposing natural gas drilling regulations "without first conducting a full environmental review."
While Ms. Jewell's history may be a concern for some Republicans in Congress, she has received near universal acclaim from environmental groups and Democrats.
"Sally Jewell has combined her business acumen with her love of the outdoors to become one of America's top CEOs. She is proof positive that common sense, balanced conservation of our open spaces and natural resources can enrich communities, improve quality of life and create jobs," said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat and his party's ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee.
Mr. Markey's sentiments were echoed by the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council and a number of other environmental and conservation groups and by other Democrats in Congress.
Oil and gas industry groups also are cautiously optimistic, in part because Ms. Jewell early in her career served as a petroleum engineer at Mobil Oil Corp.
Just minutes after the choice went public, the Western Energy Alliance released a statement praising the choice.
"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," said Tim Wigley, the group's president. "We hope to see a better balance of productive development on nonpark, nonwilderness public lands that enhances the wealth of America and creates jobs while protecting the environment."
For Mr. Obama, the choice makes political sense. He recently has expressed strong support for domestic oil and natural gas drilling and has promoted what he calls an "all of the above" energy strategy.
Increased production on federal lands would be an integral part of truly increasing American oil and gas production. While critics doubt the sincerity of his strategy — exploration on government lands is down under his administration — the selection of Ms. Jewell may be an attempt to install an interior secretary who is credible with oil and gas companies and the environmental community.
"She is an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future. … She knows the link between conservation and good jobs. She knows that there's no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress; that in fact, those two things need to go hand in hand," Mr. Obama said Wednesday during a news conference announcing the nomination.
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