President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated outdoor business executive Sally Jewell to lead the Interior Department.
The Interior Department manages more than 500 million acres (202 million hectares) in national parks and other public lands, and more than 1 billion acres (400 million hectares) offshore, overseeing energy, mining operations and recreation. The department also provides services to 566 federally recognized Indian tribes.
Obama said Jewell, president and chief executive at the outdoor recreation company REI, has earned national recognition for her support of outdoor recreation and habitat conservation. He also noted her experience as an engineer in oil fields and her record of achievement and environmental stewardship at REI, which sells clothing and gear for outdoor use.
"She knows the link between conservation and good jobs. 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," Obama said at a White House ceremony.
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 has held the post throughout Obama's first term. He announced last month that he would step down in March.
Jewell, 56, emerged as a frontrunner 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. 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.
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.
Wigley said his group hopes Jewell will work to develop oil and gas on non-park, non-wilderness public lands.
Jewell's appointment comes as Democrats and environmental groups are urging Obama to step up efforts to conserve public lands in his second term.
Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said Tuesday that Obama should adopt a principle in which every acre of public land that is leased to the oil and gas industry is matched by an acre permanently protected for conservation or recreation.
Over the past four years, more than 6 million acres (2.4 million hectares) of public lands have been leased for oil and gas, compared with 2.6 million acres (1 million hectares) permanently protected, according to U.S. Bureau of Land Management.