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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

REI head vetted by Senate committee

Jewell is nominated to be interior secretary

Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. (Associated Press)
Kip Hill Spokesman-Review correspondent

WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell was greeted Thursday by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who described the job she’s seeking as “almost like an extreme sport for multitaskers.”

That’s the challenge Jewell, head of Seattle-based Recreational Equipment Inc., faced in her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Senators peppered President Barack Obama’s pick to head the Interior Department with questions gauging where Jewell would stand on the balance between economic development and environmental conservation, often on issues specifically related to their constituencies.

They also planted barbs against the department and its current secretary, Ken Salazar, for dragging its feet on pursuing energy production on public lands and stressed the importance of those projects moving forward.

Jewell was mostly noncommittal on specific issues, pledging her willingness to meet with lawmakers on specific issues facing individual states.

Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington introduced Jewell to the panel. Sitting on either side of the nominee, both women praised Jewell’s business leadership and appreciation of natural resources.

“Science will be her compass, not an ideological bent,” Cantwell said to her fellow committee members.

Criticism of Jewell centered on her association with the National Parks Conservation Association as a board member. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., called upon Jewell to disclose legal action taken by the organization against the federal government, lawsuits he said tripped up job-creating efforts to pursue energy sources on public lands. He was also concerned about some of the group’s lobbying efforts for tougher regulations regarding commercial use of federal lands.

“Many of us are concerned that (the Bureau of Land Management’s) regulations would push drilling off public lands,” Barrasso said.

Jewell showed support for mixed-use policies and the White House’s strategy of developing a variety of energy sources. She pointed repeatedly to her business background, including time spent as an engineer in Oklahoma for Mobil, as evidence she would be open to tapping resources in an environmentally safe way.

Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, signaled some of the bipartisan approval Jewell is likely to garner, thanks to her business background.

“I’m so glad to see a CEO come and take over the agency,” Risch said. He added that he was “so tickled to hear” Jewell’s commitment to working with the committee and Congress.

Obama nominated Jewell last month to replace Salazar, who has served as interior secretary since the president took office in January 2009.

Kip Hill, a student in the University of Missouri Washington, D.C., Reporting Program, is a correspondent for The Spokesman-Review.