The 1970 western “Monte Walsh” comes to mind with President Obama’s nomination of Sally Jewell, president and chief executive officer of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), to replace Ken Salazar as secretary of the Interior. The difference between Ms. Jewell and the movie’s titular character is that Walsh stands true to his background, while Mr. Obama’s nominee seems content to run rough-shod over hers.
Walsh is a tough cowhand who ekes out a living in the last days of the Old West hiring out for anything he can do from a horse. Barbed wire and railroads, however, close up the wide open prairie Walsh loves and condemn cowboys like him to obsolescence. After his partner and paramour die tragically, Walsh goes on a drinking binge and rides an unbroken steed, destroying main street in the process. The owner of a wild west show watches in amazement and offers Walsh fame and, if not fortune, at least steady pay to wear fancy buckskins and perform for city folks. Walsh refuses with a snarl: “I ain’t gonna spit on my whole life.”
The media mentions often that the English-born and Seattle-raised Ms. Jewell is a mechanical engineer whose first post-graduate job was with Mobil Oil in Oklahoma. After three years, Ms. Jewell hired on with a bank interested in the oil boom that needed engineers “to understand the value of the collateral in the ground.” That bank was acquired by another; Ms. Jewell ran its business-banking activities. In her last role in a 20-year banking career, she led Washington Mutual’s commercial-banking business.
She joined REI’s board in 1996, became its chief operating officer in 2000 and, in 2005, became its CEO. Yet apparently she is not defined by either her engineering degree or her long ago and limited years in the oil patch, as Monte Walsh was defined by being a cowboy.
That Ms. Jewell contributes almost exclusively to Democratic candidates is irrelevant; a president’s nominee should support his party’s views. Of concern, however, is REI’s funding of the Conservation Alliance, whose grantees brag of killing energy development in Arizona, Colorado and Utah. Also worrisome is Ms. Jewell’s receipt of the Audubon Society’s Rachel Carson Award for Environmental Conservation. Since Ms. Jewell is an engineer, she must have recognized Carson’s sloppy science, obvious overstatements and dubious documentation in her 1962 bestseller “Silent Spring,” not to mention the human impact of the DDT ban inspired by the book.
Finally, despite the December 2009 collapse of the house of cards that was the purported scientific basis for climate change doomsayers, REI pushes a “climate change” regulatory agenda. Of course, Mr. Obama, who called Ms. Jewell a “climate expert,” would not have nominated her were she a climate change skeptic, let alone a “denier.”
The bottom line is Ms. Jewell will serve Mr. Obama, whose views on oil and gas are well known, especially since a Wall Street Journal report on his meeting with oilman Harold Hamm. Mr. Obama cut short Mr. Hamm’s briefing on the revolution in the oil and gas industry, which would enable America to replace OPEC, saying, “[W]e need to go on to green and alternative energy.” Even if Ms. Jewell had the inclination, let alone knowledge about the oil and gas industry not three decades old, what luck will she have persuading Mr. Obama?
Mr. Obama brags about federal action on hydraulic fracturing and the energy revolution -- precisely the revolution Mr. Hamm sought to discuss. However, the majority of hydraulic fracturing occurs on state and private lands (96 percent of the growth in oil production from 2007 to 2010 was on such lands), not federal lands, although the federal government owns a third of the nation’s onshore acreage. Worse yet, Mr. Obama’s Interior Department wants to require federal approval of fracking—the activity has been regulated by states for nearly 60 years—at a cost of $1.6 billion annually.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama’s Fish and Wildlife Service cites oil and gas operators for the occasional and accidental bird death while ignoring wind energy’s regular slaughter of birds. Finally, most of the billion acres the federal government owns on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) are closed to energy development.
The frequency with which Ms. Jewell’s oil patch days are mentioned demonstrates an eternal hope that is uniquely American. Sadly, at Obama’s Interior, it appears there will be no change.
William Perry Pendley is president of Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver, Colorado.