WASHINGTON – Seattle businesswoman Sally Jewell cleared the final hurdle Wednesday to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The Senate voted 87-11 to name the head of outdoor retail giant REI as secretary of the department.
Concerns about Jewell’s position on public land use, past association with conservation groups and local wildlife issues could not derail a nomination that drew praise from both sides of the partisan aisle for reflecting both the interests of industry and the environment.
“I’m excited that we’re going to have someone with a business background and a science background at the Department of Interior,” Sen. Maria Cantwell said on the Senate floor, urging Jewell’s confirmation. Sen. Patty Murray also voiced her support of Jewell, who after a stint as an engineer with Mobil served on the University of Washington Board of Regents and on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association.
Her involvement with the parks association drew criticism from Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, during Jewell’s confirmation hearing before a Senate panel last month. Barrasso said the group filed lawsuits harming job creation and energy production during Jewell’s time on its board. Barrasso joined 10 of his Republican colleagues voting against Jewell’s nomination.
But Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, seemed placated by Jewell’s willingness to discuss the federal government’s position on sage grouse, the ostentatious flirting birds of Idaho’s sagebrush plains. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has considered naming the sage grouse an endangered species under federal law, which has drawn criticism from Risch and others for potentially closing public grazing land to ranchers in Western states.
Risch hinted he might block Jewell’s nomination if he didn’t receive assurances the federal government would continue to meet with the states to develop a plan for the species. But Risch made no effort to stall the nomination vote Wednesday and voted to confirm Jewell.
Jewell replaces Ken Salazar, the former senator from Colorado who has headed the department since January 2009. She attended high school near Seattle and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington in 1978.