WASHINGTON - The Senate approved the nomination of Recreational Equipment Inc. Chief Executive Sally Jewell to head the U.S. Interior Department, giving President Barack Obama an easy win in his first effort to appoint new leaders at his energy and environmental agencies.
Ms. Jewell won confirmation by a vote of 87 to 11 Wednesday. Among the lawmakers voting against her nomination was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.).
Ms. Jewell's appointment marks her first foray into government office following eight years at the helm of REI, an outdoor-equipment retailer based in Washington state.
Ms. Jewell generally enjoyed support from both Democrats and Republicans, in large part because her diverse resume offers something for both parties to embrace. Before joining REI, she worked at an oil company and a bank, and she currently serves on the board of a national parks conservation group.
"She has exceptional qualifications," Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) said Wednesday. Mr. Wyden is chairman of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which approved Ms. Jewell's nomination in March by a vote of 19 to 3.
Ms. Jewell replaces Secretary Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado who has overseen the Interior Department since 2009. Mr. Salazar was responsible for overhauling the department's organizational structure following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, an effort aimed at eliminating conflicts of interest.
Mr. Salazar has said he plans to move back to Colorado.
The Interior Department isn't usually a lightning rod for criticism, but Republicans have pressed the department to allow more drilling for oil and natural gas on federal lands, citing a desire to reduce foreign oil imports and generate more revenue for the U.S. government.
The Obama administration says that its federal drilling policies embrace the president's "all of the above" approach to energy production and that the department green-lights fossil fuel production and renewable energy projects alike.
Under Ms. Jewell's leadership, the Interior Department will also oversee the development of new rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal lands.
Ms. Jewell said at a confirmation hearing last month that a key part of her job will be to balance conservation goals with energy production.
"Perhaps she is able to look at some of these issues with a fresh perspective," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) said on the Senate floor Wednesday. Ms. Murkowski, who voted for Ms. Jewell, is the highest-ranking Republican on the energy committee.
Rounding out his energy and environment team, Mr. Obama has nominated veteran regulator Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Ernest Moniz to head the Energy Department. Ms. McCarthy, whose nomination is likely to attract more controversy than Ms. Jewell's appointment, will undergo a confirmation hearing Thursday.
Mr. Moniz appeared likely to win confirmation after his hearing Tuesday.
In March, after Ms. Jewell had been nominated, REI named Brian Unmacht as its interim chief executive.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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