The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to vote Thursday on whether to send the nomination of Sally Jewell for Interior secretary to the full Senate for consideration.

If confirmed by the Senate, Jewell would oversee the department’s policies governing oil and natural gas drilling on millions of acres of public onshore and offshore lands. Jewell, the former CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), would succeed Ken Salazar, who has been a member of the Obama administration cabinet since 2009.

Jewell’s nomination could face problems with Republicans on the Senate panel. Sen Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the ranking member of the Senate Energy Committee, has raised the possibility of placing a procedural hold on Jewell’s nomination unless the Obama administration supports a land exchange that would ultimately allow for construction of a road that would provide the Alaskan community of King Cove with an airport.

Murkowski will use “all the tools in her toolbox” to ensure that the road is built, said Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon. He declined to say which way Murkowski would vote on Jewell Thursday. “We’ll just have to see. Negotiations [over the King Cove Road] are ongoing with the White House,” he said.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) raised concerns about the potential conflict of interest between Interior nominee Jewell and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), for which she serves as a board member. He asked her whether she would recuse herself if one of the 59 pending lawsuits brought by the association would create a conflict of interest with department policies. “I have nothing to do with (NPCA’s) litigation strategy,” she told the Senate committee during her confirmation hearing earlier this month (see Daily GPI, March 8).

The NPCA has weighed in on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) hydraulic fracturing rule, calling on the agency to dramatically expand the scope of the rule, which would make it more difficult for oil and gas producers to drill on public lands. If there is a conflict of interest between the NPCA and the BLM fracking rule, “I would approach the appropriate ethics counsel” on the issue, Jewell said.

Jewell’s background in the oil and gas industry is extensive. She worked on Alaska’s oil pipeline in the mid-1970s, was a petroleum engineer for ExxonMobil Corp. predecessor Mobil Oil, and spent 19 years as a banking expert addressing natural resource issues. She then moved on to REI, where she became CEO of the $2 billion outdoor equipment company in 2005. She’s probably the only would-be Interior secretary that has actually fracked a well. The president announced her nomination in early February (see Daily GPI, Feb. 7).

The meeting will be webcast on the committee’s website at at 10 a.m. Thursday (March 21).

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