Interior Secretary Nominee Is a Friend to Cyclists — and Oil Drillers?
President Obama’s choice for Interior Secretary could be an unexpected breath of fresh air for cyclists. Sally Jewell, nominated to the position yesterday, is the CEO of adventure outfitter REI, a business-minded conservationist — and a veteran of the fossil fuel industry.
Under Jewell, REI has been one of the nation’s leading corporate promoters of bicycling. Soon after she took over as CEO at REI, the company partnered with Bikes Belong and the League of American Bicyclists to provide grants to communities that are working to improve their bikeability and build partnerships between advocacy groups and municipalities.
Last month, REI gave $100,000 to expand Bikes Belong’s Green Lane Project, which focuses on urban cycling in six key cities, working to ramp up the building of protected bicycling infrastructure.
“During Sally’s term as the head of REI, REI has gotten even more engaged in bicycling in general — bicycling for short trips and commuting, bicycling as a transportation solution,” said Tim Blumenthal, director of Bikes Belong. “This is much more a part of the current REI than it was even 10 years ago.”
Twenty-four REI stores are designated Bicycle Friendly Businesses, too, with the flagship Denver store boasting 80 bicycle parking spots, a bike-share kiosk, and incentives for employees who ride to work, according to BikeDenver. And REI just finished working with the Bike League to create a Bicycle Friendly Business application for corporate designation, which will likely count REI among its first recipients.
Blumenthal said it’s pretty exciting to imagine Jewell running the agency that controls one-fifth of all the land in the United States.
This is an important time for the Department of the Interior to be led by someone who gets bicycling. The current transportation law, MAP-21, included a mandatory sidepath provision, which bars cyclists from riding on roads if a bike path is available on federally owned roads. An Interior secretary who is friendly to cycling could choose to de-prioritize enforcement of this provision.
Perhaps more important, Jewell could also make parks more friendly to cycling as a way to reduce the traffic jams that can mar the parks’ natural beauty. In the past, tensions over mountain biking have led many in the Parks Department to take a negative view of cycling in general — a debate to which Jewell could lend some nuance.
The outgoing Interior secretary, Ken Salazar, is also a friend to cycling. He helped increase access for mountain bikers on federal land as part of the White House’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative (which Jewell advised the administration on), with its goal of getting Americans outside and exercising. Salazar told audiences at the National Bike Summit two years ago that bicycling is part of the historic commitment to conservation in the United States.
While bicycling advocates have reason to cheer Sally Jewell’s nomination, there’s reason for caution as well. Interior has jurisdiction over natural resources, including those used for energy production. Before taking over the top position at the nation’s leading outdoor retailer, Jewell worked as an engineer for Mobil Oil in Oklahoma and Colorado in the late 1970s and early 80s. Fossil fuel interests hope her experience on their side will translate into openness to drilling on public lands.
But Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity told The Guardian he hoped Jewell would stand up to the oil industry.
“It is clear the secretary of interior nominee has a passion for national parks, but the question is whether she will be able to balance the natural values of our wild lands and wildlife with the ravenous pressure by industry to drill for fossil fuels,” he said.
Between her seemingly disparate gigs at Mobil and REI, Jewell spent 19 years in the banking industry.