REI's Jewell is Obama's choice for Interior
Peninsula Daily News and The Associated Press
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Jewell, as president and CEO of the outdoors company Recreational Equipment Inc., known as REI, is well-known to Port Townsend resident Jim Whittaker, who began the company in 1955.
“She's a good woman. I know her well, and I think Obama made a good choice,” said Whittaker, who in 1963 was the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
“She knows that if people get into nature and learn to love it, they will take better care of these places so it can be passed on to our children,” Whittaker added.
Obama said Jewell, 56, has earned national recognition for her support of outdoor recreation and habitat conservation.
He noted her experience as an engineer in oil fields and her record of achievement and environmental stewardship at REI, a Kent-based company that sells clothing and gear for outdoor use and has more than 100 stores across the country.
“She knows the link between conservation and good jobs,” Obama said at a White House ceremony.
“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 and hand,” he added.
At REI, Jewell “has shown that a company with more than $1 billion in sales can do the right thing for our planet,” Obama said.
Last year, REI donated nearly $4 million to protect trails and parks, and 20 percent of the electricity used in the company's stores comes from renewable sources.
Jewell, the first woman Obama has nominated for his Cabinet in his second term, would replace current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar if confirmed by the Senate.
Salazar held the post throughout Obama's first term. He announced last month that he would step down in March.
The Interior Department manages more than 500 million acres in national parks and other public lands, including a large amount of the North Olympic Peninsula, and more than 1 billion acres offshore, overseeing energy, mining operations and recreation.
The department also provides services to 566 federally recognized Native American tribes.
Jewell emerged as a front runner for the Interior post in recent days, edging out better-known Democrats such as former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.
The Interior job traditionally has gone to politicians from Western states. Salazar was a Colorado senator before taking over at Interior in 2009.
Jewell donated $5,000 to Obama's re-election effort and has supported other Democrats, campaign finance records show.
The White House faced criticism that the new Cabinet lacked diversity after Obama tapped a string of white men for top posts, but Obama promised more diverse nominees were in the queue for other jobs.
Jewell's confirmation also would put a prominent representative from the business community in the president's Cabinet, since REI is a $2 billion-a-year company and has been named by Fortune magazine as one of the top 100 companies to work for.
Before joining REI in 2000, Jewell worked in commercial banking and as an engineer for Mobil Oil Corp.
Jewell had served as president of the commercial banking group Washington Mutual from 1996 to 2000, as president of WestOne Bank from 1992 to 1995, as executive of Rainier Bank/Security Pacific from 1981 to 1992 and as an engineer with Mobil Oil Corp. from 1978 to 1981.
She assumed the top post at REI in 2005.
Jewell, who is married with two grown children, was paid more than $2 million as REI's CEO in 2011.
Jewell was born in England but moved to the Seattle area before age 4 and is a U.S. citizen.
Jewell's nomination was hailed by conservation and business groups alike.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune called Jewell a champion in the effort to connect children with nature and said she has “a demonstrated commitment to preserving the higher purposes public lands hold for all Americans: recreation, adventure and enjoyment.
The Western Energy Alliance, which represents the oil and natural gas industry in the West, also welcomed Jewell's nomination.
“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.
Whittaker said Jewell's business experience and her love of the outdoors provided a good balance.
“She's very perceptive, knows about the value of natural resources and has a good grasp on preservation issues,” Whittaker said.
“Having run a successful business, she knows the importance of creating jobs in the outdoors.”
Whittaker said he saw Jewell last week at a trade show in Utah.
There was no discussion of the Interior Department appointment, but Jewell was clearly in a good mood, Whittaker said.
“She had a big smile on her face and seemed very happy and engaged,” he said.
Aside from her business and conservation strengths, Jewell measures up to one of Whittaker's personal tests.
“She climbed Mount Rainier,” he said,
“And anyone who has climbed Mount Rainier has got to be OK.”
Jewell also was on the board of directors of Avista Corp., a Spokane-based power utility, from 1997 through 2003.
U.S. Securities and Exchange documents show that in her last full year as an Avista board member, Jewell held more than 15,600 shares in the utility and received $50,000 in director's fees.
In 2004, federal prosecutors charged that Avista played a role in a 2000 deal that allowed then-energy giant Enron to sell a $3 million turbine to the Northwest utility firm.
Prosecutors did not criminally charge Avista but said the utility agreed to buy the turbine before a larger deal was completed — a move that aided Enron in hiding the turbine deal from its auditors.
Last modified: February 06. 2013 6:11PM