Senate committee questions Interior nominee on Alaska issues

President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Interior Department, REI chief executive Sally Jewell had her time before the Senate Energy committee today.

The hearing touched on a whole host of Alaska issues … without many details.

The highlight of the day’s hearing came from Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander. Known for his wit and willingness to cut deals with both parties, Alexander wanted to know one key question:

          “I see that you have worked on the Alaska pipeline, that you’re an oil and gas engineer, you said you’ve actually fracked a gas well.”

          “I have.”

          “You were a banker for 19 years.”

          “Yes sir.”

          “You’re the chief executive of a billion dollar company.”

          “Yes sir.”

          “How’d you get appointed by this administration?”

Ms. Jewell spent the morning and part of the afternoon defending the administration’s positions on climate change, public lands and fossil fuels.

In her opening statement, Senator Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the committee made clear, the spat over a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge would not be an issue at the hearing.

She says outgoing Secretary Ken Salazar to address the issue before leaving office.

Instead, Senator Murkowski sought to pin down Ms. Jewell on the often dueling roles of the Department.

“We need you to affirm that public lands provide not just a playground for recreational enthusiast, as important as that is, but also paychecks for countless energy producers, miners, ranchers, loggers,” Murkowski says.

Senator Murkowski says she worries about Ms. Jewell’s environmental leanings – she serves on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association – that she’ll put conservation in front of energy production.

Ms. Jewell came prepared.

“Many people that enjoy the outdoors, they jump in a car to get there. It requires fuel. Many of the products are industry produces are produced in some way or another with materials that derive from fossil fuels,” Jewell says.

Most on the Committee wanted commitments on parochial issues in their state … some with wider appeal.

Would she commit to pursuing more oil and gas development on public lands?

“We’re blessed with many resources on federal lands, and certainly leaning in to domestic oil and gas production is an important part of the mission of, particularly the Bureau of Land Management, but also the Department of the Interior,” Jewell says.

Does she believe in climate change?

“There is no question in my mind that climate change is real, and the scientific evidence is there to back it up,” Jewell says.

On other issues, like revenue sharing for offshore oil drilling, she avoided an answer like a seasoned politician.

“I certainly have heard from a number of senators about this issue. And if I’m confirmed in this role, I look forward to better understanding the issues by different states, and hopefully bringing it to an appropriate resolution,” Jewell says.

Ms. Jewell seemed to satisfy most Democrats on the panel, and even some Republicans.

Hanging over the hearing was Senator Murkowski’s threat to filibuster the nomination.

So there were overtures from Ms. Jewell to Senator Murkowski … saying they both worked on TAPS in some form. That she spent years as the primary banker for the NANA Corporation. That she supports Arctic drilling – so long as it’s done safely.

And Ms. Jewell had help from her home state Senator, Democrat Maria Cantwell.

“This nominee has probably had more experience dealing with Alaska in a variety of ways in anybody we’ve seen since Alaska Governor Hickel served in this position 40 years ago,” Cantwell says.

Before moving on to the full Senate, the committee needs to vote on the nominee. No vote has been scheduled.