On eve of Jewell's confirmation hearing, Manchin's doubts add an element of suspense

This story was updated at 7:45 a.m. EDT.

A West Virginia Democratic senator yesterday said he has concerns with President Obama's nomination of Sally Jewell for Interior secretary, citing possible disagreements over energy policy.

Jewell, who is CEO of the outdoor retail giant REI, this morning is set to appear before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"I have concerns over some of her past performances," Sen. Joe Manchin told E&E Daily. "Our differences may be on energy."

Manchin, who is the former governor of the coal-rich Mountain State, represents a crucial vote on a committee where Democrats hold a slim 12-10 majority. If he votes no, Republicans could block Jewell's nomination from advancing.


Manchin would not elaborate on his concerns but said he had a "very good conversation" when he met with Jewell earlier this week.

"I want to see what her answers are tomorrow," Manchin said. "I've been upfront with her."

A spokesman for Manchin did not specify what the senator's concerns were or what he planned to ask Jewell at today's hearing.

Manchin has expressed concerns over past Obama administration nominees for Interior posts, including Rebecca Wodder for assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. Wodder's past employer, American Rivers, opposed mountaintop-removal mining and hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas.

Jewell, 56, began her career as an engineer for Mobil Oil Corp. and later spent decades as a corporate banker advising on oil and gas assets. Jewell in 2000 joined REI, a $1.8 billion company that caters to hikers, bikers, campers and paddlers and has supported groups that advocate against oil and gas drilling and motorized vehicle use on public lands.

While Jewell has garnered plaudits from some oil and gas groups, she has come under attack from some conservatives over her past statements suggesting she supports putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions. REI is a considered a leader in corporate sustainability and has pledged to become "climate neutral" by 2020.

"I know tax is a dirty word, but if we were paying a carbon tax that accounted for our impact on greenhouse gases, that would in fact change our consumption, just as higher oil prices have changed our consumption and made it more economic for other sources to come into play," Jewell said according to a 2008 interview with Ethix, which is an online publication of Seattle Pacific University. "Regulation plays an important role in driving behavior."

Manchin was an outspoken opponent of congressional efforts in 2010 to cap carbon emissions, going so far as to fire a bullet through a symbolic copy of a House-passed cap-and-trade bill for a TV campaign ad.

Chairman of the ENR panel's newly named Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining, Manchin has also raised concerns over the Obama administration's development of an Office of Surface Mining rule governing the protection of streams from coal mining operations.

Interior also oversees coal leasing and mining in Western states, though it does not lease coal in West Virginia.

Enviros seek answers on Arctic

Two environmental groups yesterday said they, too, have questions for Jewell over how Interior manages energy development in the Arctic.

The Alaska Wilderness League and Greenpeace issued a memo yesterday urging Jewell to strengthen Interior's commitment to transparency with regard to decisions about offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean, arguing that the agency has failed to provide requested documents.

The groups also warned that projects like Royal Dutch Shell PLC's proposed exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas "could push climate to a point of no return."

"The administration can't drill in the Arctic and expect to solve the problem of climate change at the same time," the groups wrote. "How will Sally Jewell balance President Obama's goals for climate change with the administration's 'all of the above energy policy,' which so far has included risky drilling in the Arctic Ocean?"

The groups said Jewell will also need to decide how Interior will review its regulations and oversight of Arctic drilling in light of the operational and regulatory mishaps Shell experienced in its 2012 drilling season, which included the grounding of one of its drillships off the coast of Alaska.

Republicans say Jewell should reject 'wild lands'

The House's conservative Congressional Western Caucus yesterday in a letter to President Obama said its members have concerns over Jewell's nomination -- given that most of Interior's lands are in the West -- and that her confirmation deserves a "full and careful review" in the Senate.

"American industry needs access to develop and produce materials to build our homes and businesses, and provide everyday household items like our cars, phones, tablets and televisions," said the letter signed by 16 caucus members. "Yet production of these resources on federal lands lags well behind similar projects on private land."

While the all-Republican group said it admired Jewell's success as a businesswoman, it raised concerns that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's "wild lands" policy was announced at REI's flagship store in Denver in late 2010. The policy, which sought interim protections for wilderness-quality lands, was later revoked as a result of Republican furor.

"An immediate gesture Mrs. Jewell could offer to create good will and trust within the West and among CWC members is a commitment to a categorical and formal revocation of the 'wild lands' order," the caucus wrote. "It is an unnecessary lightening rod."

The group said its members also have concerns with Interior's oversight of water storage and wildfire protection and the president's use of the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments. "We also all have concerns with various regulations that impact coal and hard-rock mining, oil and gas development, forestry, grazing, off-road vehicle use and other economic activities," they wrote.

The group said it also hopes Interior will lead reforms of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, which it said have been driven by lawsuits that cost taxpayer money and delay economic use of public lands.

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