President Obama has picked REI CEO Sally Jewell to head the Department of Interior, replacing the largely ineffective Ken Salazar. Salazar didn’t really accomplish much with regards to conservation and improving “our” National Parks and other public lands. I know it was a long time ago, but remember the BP thing a couple of years back where they polluted the entire Gulf of Mexico and basically got a wrist slap? They are still out there making money hand over fist off of “your” public lands–and bickering with the gulf states that have asked them for compensation and damages. I would expect Jewell to be just as ineffective, probably worse when it comes to conservation–why? The Department of Interior (DOI) does a lot of business with powerful corporate interests, primarily oil and gas. Most people think of the National Park Service when they see news involving the Department of Interior. In fact, pictures all over the internet show Jewell hiking, skiing, and mountain climbing–as if that had anything to do with running a massive agency primarily dedicated to extracting as much wealth as possible from “our” public lands.
What Is the Department of Interior?
The National Park Service and other “recreational” uses of public land account for less than 20% of the DOI budget. Oil and gas, mining, reclamation, insular affairs, Indian affairs and other divergent agencies occupy the other 80% of the budget. The agencies under the DOI are so wide-ranging that it has earned the nickname “The Department of Everything Else.” With that in mind, and given Jewell’s background (and lack of experience in government), she will either go along or get eaten for lunch. I suspect that she’s smart enough to not make waves and keep her eye on the bigger prize. Four years from now, it’s likely that she may follow down that old path of revolving doors in Washington and become a consultant to peddle her “former Interior Secretary” services to the highest corporate bidder.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Don’t worry oil and gas executives, Jewell understands your needs. As an engineer, she started her career working for Mobil Oil and then moved on to the banking industry. Banks were eager to hire petroleum engineers so that they could better understand and lend to oil companies. Apparently, she was pretty good at loaning money to oil companies in that she started with Ranier bank, moved on to WestOne Bank and, and eventually ended up at Washington Mutual. She was an executive with Washington Mutual in 2000 when she got the golden ticket to be on the board at REI–and just in the nick of time. Washington Mutual subsequently became the largest financial institution failure in US history. As the CEO of REI, in 2011 she also procured waivers for REI to be exempted from Obamacare for 1,180 part-time employees–and this after being invited to the White House in 2009 to be on a panel that supported the health care initiative.
New Unsurprising Developments
The Outdoor Industry Association announced a new “Business Advisory Council” the same day that Jewell was tapped as Secretary of Interior, which will be headed by an insider from REI named Marc Berejka, who is currently REI’s Director of Government Affairs. REI needs a Department of Government Affairs? I thought it was a simple co-op. Seems that the outdoor industry and REI expect big things from Jewell’s appointment. Berejka joined REI a year and a half ago after stints at the Department of Commerce and Microsoft.
Big Business Wins Again
From oil, to banking, to CEO of a massive retail enterprise, Jewell is a typical business-friendly Obama appointment, maintaining the status quo. I would have expected more–much more–from a second term appointment. Move along, nothing to see here. It’s business as usual for big business. What a disappointment.
Learn more about REI — the big-box retailer of the outdoor industry that sells a lot of REI branded items made in China.