It was a nice story, when President Obama called upon REI CEO, Sally Jewell, to head the Interior Department in 2013. Jewell had never served in government much less in a cabinet but it was her connection to the outdoors, as CEO of outdoor gear retailer REI, that drew the connection.
Obama spoke about her love of the outdoors growing up in the Washington Cascades. He spoke of her experience at the head of REI and how it would translate to the role as chief steward of our land and natural resources. But it seems Jewell is more board room than snowboard, encouraging profit over protection.
Jewell’s first career was with Mobil as an engineer in the Oklahoma oil fields, a point not italicized in Obama’s introduction. While more and more scientists, officials and public opinions demand swifter action on climate, Jewell echoes the administration, suggesting that we need an all of the above approach to wean off of fossil fuels.
Speaking at an event on 9/15, Jewell defended fossil fuel development on public lands. “You can't just cut [fossil fuels] off overnight and expect to have an economy that is, in fact, a leader in the world."
This plays on the popular fears of America losing it’s position in the global pecking order to Russia or China, a red herring to allow corporations to continue business as usual for as long as possible.
She continued, "I think it oversimplifies a very complex situation to suggest that one could simply cut off leasing or drilling on public lands and solve the issue of climate change. We all have a responsibly to act and there are things we are doing and will continue to do to reduce the carbon footprint and put incentives in place for all of us to do a better job in how we use carbon."
This classic deflection of blame suggests that it is the consumer, the individual who is to blame for using and misusing a good that is provided to us by the corporations. It is not the corporation extracting and market the oil, gas and coal, not the corporations who design our energy grids or automobiles, and not the politicians who subsidize and allow them to do so in exchange for financial support who are to blame. It is the individual, who has almost no choice at the pump or socket which source of energy he or she uses, who is to be scolded.
Today Jewett went further to embolden her loyalty toward industry, delivering a video statement that her department has ruled that the Greater Western Sage Grouse will not be listed as an endangered species on the ESA. For years, Sage Grouse populations have declined as a result of habitat loss from oil and gas development and mining.
For years, these industries, along with Republican members of Congress, have fought to keep the bird off of the list, not by conservation but by lobbying.
NPR’s Nathan Rott said, “Western industries — like oil and gas, mining and agriculture — say that listing would cost them billions of dollars in lost economic activity.”
The failure to list the species was framed as a win for the bird, citing rebounding populations through state and landowner cooperation. However, not providing the grouse with ESA protection, opens the door to further habitat loss and population decline. It seems an obvious nod to the industry Jewell cut her teeth in.
Obama wasn’t wrong in his rose colored speech of Jewell, even if he did lean heavily on the REI Jewell, in a raincoat and hiking boots. REI isn’t a conservation group, they’re a corporation that sells stuff, stuff which (for all the fun it affords) exploits the public lands we wish to protect. Jewell, throughout her career, whether in the oil, banking or retail industry, has been tasked to make money. Her role atop the Interior is one she is surely well suited for.
A video of this incredible bird: