Few political issues are more partisan than environmental policy. Environmentalists on the left see economic success as the antithesis of environmental stewardship and conservatives on the right see environmental policies as hostile to free enterprise. Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell, however, sheds light on a more rewarding approach.
Although politically unknown, Jewell is known for her business acumen as chief executive of Recreational Equipment Inc. and for her dedication to environmental stewardship, Jewell offers the potential for a new approach at the Interior Department. As a former oil worker for Mobil Oil and as a petroleum engineer for Rainier Bank, Jewell is no stranger to the world of natural resource extraction. She has been a leader in the environmental debate for nearly 20 years.
Last month, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced President Obama’s nomination of Jewell to head the Interior Department. During her nomination in February, the president noted, “[Jewell] 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.”
Instead of fighting from the balustrade of economics or green politics, Jewell’s background as a corporate executive with experience in both resource extraction and conservation demonstrates how markets and the environment can complement one another. Instead of constantly seeking a middle ground between the two warring sides, the Department of the Interior has the potential to build on the success of free market environmentalism, a practical and proven approach to environmental stewardship and economic prosperity.
Markets offer people a way of cooperating rather than fighting. When cooperation supplants conflict, gains from trade emerge. For example, take water markets’ role in increasing instream flows—providing valuable habitat for fish and wildlife and water for irrigation. As the western population and consumptive demands continue to grow, well-defined and exchangeable water rights have proven viable and efficient in comparison to costly and burdensome regulations. By applying market-based solutions to environmental problems, both economic and ecological quality is improved.
If the Senate confirms Jewell, she has the chance to advance market solutions to environmental problems. And if she does, we might just find a Jewell in the rough after all.