Sally Jewell, a retail executive and outdoor enthusiast, is President Barack Obama's pick to oversee the national parks and vast energy reserves on public lands as Interior secretary, an administration official said on Wednesday.
Jewell is the first woman tapped to join Obama's second-term Cabinet, which has been criticized as lacking diversity.
Her private sector experience, most recently as chief executive of outdoor retailer REI, drew praise from conservationists and some industry groups, but Jewell's nomination drew skepticism from some Republicans in Congress.
"I look forward to hearing about the qualifications Ms. Jewell has that make her a suitable candidate to run such an important agency, and how she plans to restore balance to the Interior Department," said U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Jewell has been a leader in land conservation in the Pacific Northwest, but she worked in the energy and finance sectors early in her career.
Besides managing the U.S. National Park Service, the Interior Department oversees about a fifth of the nation's land mass and vast offshore oil fields.
Interior has a strong say in rules that govern hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands as well as drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic. It will help implement the president's push for more renewable energy development on federal land.
She would replace Ken Salazar, who said he did not intend to stay for Obama's second term.
EXPERIENCE IN FINANCE
Jewell, a former banking executive, joined Recreational Equipment Inc as a board member in 1996 before taking over as chief operating officer in 2000 and then later as CEO of the national retail chain.
A graduate of the University of Washington, where she now serves as a regent, Jewell began her career as an engineer at Mobil Oil Corp, working in Oklahoma and Colorado.
"Her experience as a petroleum engineer and business leader will bring a unique perspective to an office that is key to our nation's energy portfolio," the Western Energy Alliance said in a statement.
Washington state-based REI is known for its conservation and stewardship efforts as well as its co-op structure that includes more than 10 million consumer "members." It has also been voted as one of Fortune magazine's best companies to work for.
An outdoorswoman who lists mountaineering and kayaking among her hobbies, Jewell served on the "National Parks Second Century Commission," whose goal was to help shape the future of the National Parks System.
"In Jewell, President Obama chose a leader with a demonstrated commitment to preserving the higher purposes public lands hold for all Americans - recreation, adventure, and enjoyment," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
About 30 percent of the nation's oil and gas production and 40 percent of the nation's coal come from land managed by Interior, according to the agency's website. The department collected roughly $12 billion in revenue from federal land last year.
Interior has come under scrutiny in recent years for giving industry undue sway in awarding contracts and collecting too little royalty revenue.
Last month, the Senate energy committee asked the department to investigate whether mining companies were shortchanging the government on coal export royalties.
Obama is remaking his energy and environmental team at a time when the nation is responding to a surge in shale oil and gas development that has transformed the U.S. energy outlook.
The president has said he hopes to reduce the country's reliance on carbon fuels blamed for climate change.
Jewell has received several awards recognizing her work in environmental conservation.
As a leader with the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, an initiative to create a green corridor around the Puget Sound to inland Washington State, Jewell has worked with government and private interests to protect land for conservation and recreational use.
Obama is expected to announce the nomination, first reported by The Washington Post, on Wednesday.
The president has yet to nominate replacements for Lisa Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and Steven Chu, the Energy Secretary.