Washington • Sally Jewell’s nomination to head the Interior Department cleared a major hurdle on Thursday as a Senate committee voted to support her, thanks to a last-minute deal.
Committee members voted 19-3 to back Jewell’s nomination despite rumblings the day before that President Barack Obama’s choice to head Interior would be held up over a rural Alaska issue.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was one of the three Republicans to oppose Jewell’s nomination, which now heads to the full Senate.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, struck a deal late Wednesday with the Interior Department to review a decision to close a 10-mile gravel road in her state that she says is the only link in emergencies.
Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and chairman of the committee, noted that cellphone batteries nearly died the night before as Murkowski sought an agreement with Interior and the White House.
“We all know that senators on this committee have strong views with respect to the natural resources issues and Sally Jewell is not going to agree with each of us on every single issue,” Wyden said. “What I know for certain is she is going to give each member of this committee her ear and her expertise that comes from having managed to pack a host of professional careers ... into one lifetime.”
Jewell stepped down as head of Recreational Equipment Inc. upon her nomination; she previously worked for an oil company and as an executive at a bank.
Lee, who wasn’t at the hearing and voted against Jewell by proxy, said he was impressed by Jewell’s business acumen.
“However, her experience in public land policy involves active participation in organizations that continually sue to restrict access to public land and prevent development of natural resources in Utah and across the West,” Lee said, noting that she didn’t address his concerns before the vote.
Lee was referring to Jewell’s position as a board member of the National Parks Conservation Association, which has sued the government 54 times since Jewell joined the group. Jewell and the association have said that she played no part in the litigation or decision to sue.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said he voted against Jewell because he found her answers in the committee hearing and in written form lacking.
“Until I have further clarification, I had to withhold my support,” Barrasso said.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is resigning at the end of the month to return to his native Colorado.