Sens. Landrieu and Vitter react to Obama's choice to head Interior Department

02 07, 2013 by The Times-Picayune

President Barack Obama on Wednesday chose a former engineer for Mobil Oil Corp., and an outdoors enthusiast, to head the Interior Department. Louisiana's two senators reacted cautiously to the nomination to head the department responsible for implementing the president's policies on oil and gas development.

"With her background in both the oil industry and as a conservationist, I am encouraged by Sally Jewell's potential for understanding the delicate balance between energy production and environmental responsibility that we must achieve as a nation," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

"I look forward to hearing more from Ms. Jewell on the policies that affect Louisiana - in particular, achieving a more meaningful share of revenues for offshore energy producing states by raising the current $500 million a year cap on our revenues and accelerating receipt of those revenues as soon as possible, as well as opening more areas for exploration and production. These are high priorities for the people of Louisiana and I am eager to learn if Ms. Jewell would be a partner in these efforts as Interior Secretary."

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., also raised the isssue of future drilling.

"This administration's 5-year offshore leasing plan is half what the nation's previous plan was," Vitter said. "So my top question for the new interior nominee is simple: Does she think that's the right direction for us to move in?"

Jewell is president and CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc., which has increased revenue to $2 billion a year under her leadership for the last eight years and earned a spot on the Fortune Magazine's Best Places to work list.

Obama praised her diverse background and skills.

"After graduation, Sally went on to work in the oil fields of Oklahoma and Colorado," Obama said at the White House. "Later, she brought her experience in the energy sector to banking, where she spent 19 years determining what makes companies succeed and fail. And most recently as the CEO of REI -- a position that she's held for the last eight years -- Sally has helped turn a stalling outdoor retailer into one of America's most successful and environmentally conscious companies."

Obama said that under Jewell's leadership REI donated almost $4 million to protect trails and parks, and 20 percent of the electricity used in their stores comes from renewable sources.

If confirmed, she would replace current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who implemented the controversial six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling following the 2010 BP oil spill. Salazar said the action was necessary - in part because the United States did not have the capability of fighting another oil spill and also because his department needed to put in place new a regulatory regime to make sure such a disaster never occurred again.

Most Louisiana lawmakers sharply criticized the moratorium, saying it put a huge economic burden on Louisiana.

Jewell said she's looking forward to her new job, if confirmed by the Senate - though it will come with a big pay cut.

"I have a great job at REI today, but there's no role that compares than the call to serve my country as Secretary of the Department of Interior," Jewell said. "I'm humbled and I'm energized by this opportunity, and I look forward to getting to know members of the Senate as they consider my nomination in the coming weeks."