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Interior pick is important to Idaho

Idaho State Journal Editorial Board
February 8, 2013
Idaho State Journal

Who heads up the U.S. Department of the Interior is of special interest to Idaho.

And it isn't just because two former Idaho governors have held the post - Democrat Cecil Andrus and Republican Dirk Kempthorne. Andrus was Secretary of the Interior from 1977-81 under President Jimmy Carter and Kempthorne served under President George W. Bush from 2006-09.

A history of having Idahoans head up the massive federal bureaucracy isn't the main reason Idaho has an extra stake in who serves. The fact that 63 percent of the Gem State is federally-owned makes it critical. The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management controls about 60 percent of the state's total federal holdings. The U.S. Forest Service, also controlled by the Department of the Interior, is responsible for about 25 percent.

The latest numbers show 44 percent of federal land in Idaho is reserved for grazing and 42 percent for forests and wildlife.

Grazing policies affect hundreds of ranchers, agribusinesses and conservation efforts in Idaho.

Management of national forests, parks and preserves impacts not only every Idahoan, but every resident of the U.S.

Nationwide, the Department of the Interior, through the Bureau of Reclamation, manages 476 dams and 348 reservoirs. It controls the entire Upper Snake River basin from Wyoming through Southeast Idaho with the largest reservoirs on the system, Palisades and American Falls, providing irrigation water to the region.

Idaho's Native American population also has a big stake in the Department of the Interior because that agency controls the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

There is no discounting the importance of the Interior Department and the person chosen to lead it.

This week President Barack Obama nominated Sally Jewell, president and chief executive officer of REI, a massive outdoor equipment and clothing company out of Seattle, to fill the slot being vacated by former Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar.

So far, Jewell has received accolades from both the business and conservation camps in the country.

Jewell has a degree in mechanical engineering and worked as an engineer in the petroleum industry. She then spent time as a banking executive before taking over the helm of REI in 2005. REI is a $2 billion-a-year company named by Fortune Magazine as one of the top 100 companies to work for in the nation.

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, a selling point for her nomination mentioned by Obama.

"She knows the link between conservation and good jobs," Obama said. "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."

Jewell's balance of experiences is what is drawing support from industry and conservation groups. They include the Wester Energy Alliance and the Sierra Club.

If approved by the U.S. Senate, Jewell would become only the second woman to fill the post. The first was Gale Norton, a former Colorado attorney general who served before Kempthorne in the Bush administration.

Norton became embroiled in controversy when her agency was investigated for awarding cheap oil shale leases to Royal Dutch Shell, an agreement potentially worth billions of dollars. After she left the Interior Department, she became a legal advisor for Royal Dutch Shell's oil shale division.

Undoubtedly, President Obama is hoping the second woman to guide the Department of the Interior will steer clear of conflicts of interest and help shape federal land decisions with an even hand.

Jewell also quells some concerns that Obama's upper-level cabinet appointments have gone to men only and adds a voice to his cabinet from the business community.

His appointment makes political sense. If Jewell secures the nomination, Idahoans can hope she brings common sense to the management of its vast federal lands, irrigation projects and Indian reservations.

Originally posted at

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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