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Remarks on the Nomination of Sally Jewell To Be Secretary of the Interior

February 06, 2013

The President. Hello, everybody. Please have a seat. Everybody's so formal—[laughter]or maybe it's just after lunch. Well, good afternoon, everybody.

Ken Salazar likes to say that the Department of the Interior is actually the Department of America. Other members of my Cabinet may not entirely agree with that statement, but you can see where he's coming from. The Secretary of the Interior is in charge of overseeing 500 million acres of public land—including places like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon—and protecting our natural heritage for our children and our grandchildren and their children to come.

But the job also requires keeping an eye on America's future and making smart decisions about how we create jobs and help businesses grow and put ourselves on a path towards energy independence. And that's not always an easy balancing act, but with enthusiasm and skill and dedication, that's exactly what Ken Salazar has done over the last 4 years.

We were just reminiscing a little bit: I've known Ken since we were both running for the Senate together and became the only two incoming Democrats in our Senate class; Pete Rouse remembers this. It was a lonely time. [Laughter] We actually lived in the same building when we first arrived in Washington. And, Ken, you'll recall it was a little discouraging because basically everyone else who lived there was 20 or 25. [Laughter] So we were the two geriatrics in this building.

But I came to appreciate quickly not just his friendship—which, if you've got Ken Salazar as a friend, you've got a real friend. Not only did I come to appreciate his jump shot—he is surprisingly quick on the court—[laughter]—but also his patriotism and his belief that we've got a responsibility to care for the land with which we've been blessed.

And it's not surprising that Ken feels this way; after all, his ancestors were living here before the Mayflower set sail. As he explains it—and relevant, as we are working to get immigration reform passed—his family did not cross the border, the border crossed them. [Laughter] And that's why, when I needed somebody to lead Interior, I didn't have to look very far.

Since being confirmed, Ken has cracked down on waste. He's improved the management of the Department to make it work better for the American people. He has ushered in a new era of conservation for our land, our water, and our wildlife. He's established 7 new national parks, 10 new national wildlife refuges. He has opened more public land and water for safe and responsible energy production, not just gas and oil but also wind and solar, creating thousands of new jobs and nearly doubling our use of renewable energy in this country. He has helped to forge what is probably the strongest working relationship with tribal leaders that the Federal Government has seen in modern times. And when the unexpected has happened—like the Gulf oil spill or Hurricane Sandy—he has been on the ground making sure that people get help right away and we deal with these challenges as professionally as possible.

So I really like Ken Salazar, if you haven't gotten the point. [Laughter] Ken is now ready to head back to Colorado and spend more time with Hope and his family. And so in addition to just saying thank you, Ken, for the extraordinary work that you've done, Ken is also going to have the opportunity to introduce his successor. And I am extraordinarily proud today to nominate another strong and capable leader to take the reins at Interior, and that is Ms. Sally Jewell.

In high school, Sally's aptitude test showed she had a knack for mechanical reasoning and spatial ability. [Laughter] We checked. We do thorough vetting before nominations. [Laughter] Of course, her recommended professions after she took these tests were to be a nurse or a teacher, just like all the other girls in her class. And it wasn't until she was an undergraduate at the University of Washington studying to be a dentist when Sally realized her boyfriend's homework was more interesting than hers, and she decided to become an engineer.

After graduation, Sally went on to work in the oil fields of Oklahoma and Colorado. Later, she brought her experience in the energy sector to banking, where she spent 19 years determining what makes companies succeed and fail. And most recently, as the CEO of REI, a position that she's held for the last 8 years, Sally has helped turn a stalling outdoor retailer into one of America's most successful and environmentally conscious companies. Last year, REI donated almost $4 million to protect trails and parks, and 20 percent of the electricity used in their stores comes from renewable sources.

So even as Sally has spent the majority of her career outside of Washington—where, I might add, the majority of our interior is located—[laughter]—she is an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future. She is committed to building our nation-to-nation relationship with Indian Country. She knows the link between conservation and good jobs. She knows that there's no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress, that in fact, those two things need to go hand in hand. She has shown that a company with more than $1 billion in sales can do the right thing for our planet.

Sally's broad expertise and set of values I know are going to serve her well as she takes on these new challenges. She's got a wonderful and supportive family, who, I understand, enjoy the great outdoors just like she does. So they've got a vested interest in making sure that the Department of the Interior is doing the right thing. And when Sally is confirmed, I'm willing to bet that she will be the first Secretary of the Interior who frequently hikes Mailbox Peak in her native Washington State and who once spent a month climbing mountains in Antarctica, which is just not something I'd think of doing—[laughter]—because it seems like it would be cold, and I was born in Hawaii. [Laughter]

So for Sally, the toughest part of this job will probably be sitting behind a desk. I suspect she'll want to get out of the office quite a bit. But again, I want to thank Ken Salazar and the entire Salazar family for their extraordinary service, their extraordinary friendship. The Department of the Interior is stronger, this country is stronger, our natural resources are in a better place because of his extraordinary service. I could not be more thrilled with the work that Sally, I know, is going to do in following that path that Ken has carved. I expect the Senate to confirm her as quickly as possible.

And with that, I'd like to invite both of them to say a few words, starting with my dear friend, Ken Salazar.

Secretary of the Interior Kenneth L. Salazar. Thank you, Mr. President. Is it the same one I have?

The President. No, that's Sally's. [Laughter] I just didn't want to get them mixed up.

[At this point, Secretary Salazar and Secretary-designate Jewell each made brief remarks, concluding as follows.]

Secretary-designate Jewell. I'm excited to take this new challenge. Thank you so much.

The President. You're going to do great.

Secretary-designate Jewell. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:06 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Counselor to the President Peter M. Rouse, in his former capacity as the President's chief of staff during his tenure in the U.S. Senate; and Esperanza "Hope" Salazar, wife of Secretary Salazar. The transcript released by the Office of the Press Secretary also included the remarks of Secretary Salazar and Secretary-designate Jewell.

Barack Obama, Remarks on the Nomination of Sally Jewell To Be Secretary of the Interior Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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