Jewell, at an event in 2011

fortunelivemediaJewell, at an event in 2011.

Meet your likely new secretary of the interior, Sally Jewell. Those of you who have been reading Grist since 2007 have met her already.

Jewell is the CEO of REI, which is a company that I will bet $2.6 million you are familiar with. But more relevantly, Jewell is also a recognized environmentalist. From The New York Times:

Ms. Jewell, a native of the Seattle area and a graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in mechanical engineering, has been a lifelong outdoors enthusiast. As a child she sailed in Puget Sound and camped throughout the Pacific Northwest, according to a 2005 profile in the Seattle Times. …

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

She received the 2009 Rachel Carson Award for environmental conservation from the Audubon Society; the 2008 Nonprofit Director of the Year award from the National Association of Corporate Directors, and The Green Globe-Environmental Catalyst Award from King County, Wash., among others.

She is expected to face vigorous questioning during confirmation hearings about her approach to resource development on public lands.

Which reminds me. I should also mention what Jewell did before working at REI. She was a banker. And before that? Take it away, Politico.

The pick, first reported by The Washington Post, would be well received by environmental groups yet also offer something for the oil and gas industry: Jewell is a board member of the National Parks Conservation Association and was a young petroleum engineer at Mobil before it merged with Exxon.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

This 2005 Seattle Times profile of Jewell offers a little more context:

Jewell graduated in 1973 from Renton High School. She earned a mechanical-engineering degree from the University of Washington and, one week later, married Warren Jewell, a fellow engineer.

The newlyweds joined the profession during an engineer shortage and received nine dual job offers. They accepted positions with Mobil Oil, heading straight to the oil fields of southern Oklahoma.

Jewell stayed with the company for three years, but bigger opportunities lay ahead. The 1980s marked a boom time for the oil industry, with record prices fueling new exploration.

Banks began to hire engineers to understand the value of the collateral in the ground, and Jewell signed on as petroleum engineer for Rainier Bank.

Jewell then joined the board of REI and, in 2005, took over as CEO.

In some ways, Jewell’s background makes her the perfect pick to run the Interior Department. Not only can she empathize with both sides in the struggle between developing and protecting public land, but her career has been an evolution from the former to the latter. Jewell’s career reflects the transition the country itself is making, away from raw exploration at all costs, toward sensible stewardship. The environmental accolades Jewell has acquired in her new role — and the efforts REI has made to reduce its own environmental impact — reinforce that transition.

But my first reaction to the news was still that it was jarring: the head of an outdoors company being chosen to determine the fate of the outdoors? Despite how ridiculous it is to suggest that something untoward could result (what, Jewell will force government employees to wear REI’s Patagonia Synchilla Snap-T Fleece Top, now on sale?), it feels strange. It’s as though the president is suggesting that the only person who can really understand the nation’s natural resource issues is someone who has tried to figure out how to make those resources profitable. That discomfort, I then realized, isn’t with Jewell’s transition from REI to DOI; rather, it reflects my discomfort with how narrow the path to prominence is in the United States. Want to catch the president’s eye? Run a company.

Nonetheless, this pick — the first of the three energy- and environment-related cabinet positions Obama needs to fill — will almost certainly be welcomed by those who’ve been tracking Jewell’s career for a long time. (Like Grist. Did I mention our 2007 profile?) In short order, our email inboxes will likely be flooded with press releases from various environmental groups lauding the decision. (We will not inflict these upon you.)

How the Senate will feel about Jewell is a much more important question.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.