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Originally published July 18, 2013 at 8:49 PM | Page modified July 18, 2013 at 9:01 PM

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Interior Secretary Jewell dives into pressing issues

Since her confirmation as Interior secretary in April, former REI Chief Executive Sally Jewell has immersed herself in the pressing issues facing her vast agency.

Seattle Times Washington bureau

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WASHINGTON — Since her confirmation as Interior secretary in April, former REI Chief Executive Sally Jewell has immersed herself in the pressing issues facing her vast agency, from updating hydraulic-fracturing regulations to protecting sage grouse and opening more lands and waters to oil and gas exploration.

During that time, perhaps the biggest news from Jewell’s former employer was Recreational Equipment Inc.’s decision to replace its lifetime merchandise-return policy with a one-year limit.

Even for an engineer-turned-banker-turned-retail-executive, Jewell’s venture into public service has been quite a shift.

“This is an enormous job,” she said in an interview Thursday.

Saturday marks Jewell’s 100th day as the nation’s 51st Interior secretary. Coincidentally, she’ll be making her first public appearance as secretary in Washington state that same day, at a summit for youth and the outdoors at the University of Washington.

Connecting children and families with nature is a priority for Jewell, one of the only Cabinet secretaries who travels with a backpack.

Jewell has devoted much of her first months in office familiarizing herself with Interior’s far-flung operations.

She has toured an offshore-drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, checked on restoration progress at the Everglades National Park and attended the memorial for 19 firefighters killed in an Arizona wildfire.

She also has met frequently with Senate and House members, tending to the political business that is no small part of her job.

Republicans, chief among them Rep. Doc Hastings of Pasco, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee that has oversight of Jewell’s department, has been agitating for the Obama administration to open up more federal waters that ring the coastal states to oil and gas drilling.

In 2012, the Interior Department collected $12.2 billion in revenue from oil, gas and other leases. Jewell has said in congressional testimony and on Capitol Hill that the administration will pursue energy exploration safely and responsibly while meeting the nation’s security needs.

She said her previous careers, especially her days as a petroleum engineer and a commercial banker, have served her well in her new role.

“To actually know what (hydraulic fracturing) is, having done it myself and recognizing the risks” has been extremely valuable, she said.

Jewell said she plans to follow advice she received to focus on a few key issues that would mark her tenure at Interior, adding that she was still working on that list.

But she mentioned the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service, one of her department’s agencies. She called it a chance to celebrate the national-park system’s cultural and natural treasures.

Jewell also talked about Interior Department’s responsibility to American Indians and Alaska natives. The Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs is charged with upholding treaty obligations with tribes on self-governance, education for native students and other matters.

Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or ksong@seattletimes.com

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