State Dining Room
THE PRESIDENT: Well, good afternoon, everybody.
Ken Salazar likes to say that the Department of the Interior is actually the Department of America. Other members of my Cabinet may not entirely agree with that statement, but you can see where he's coming from. The Secretary of the Interior is in charge of overseeing 500 million acres of public land -- including places like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon -- and protecting our natural heritage for our children and our grandchildren and their children to come.
But the job also requires keeping an eye on America's future, and making smart decisions about how we create jobs and help businesses grow, and put ourselves on a path towards energy independence. And that's not always an easy balancing act, but with enthusiasm and skill and dedication, that's exactly what Ken Salazar has done over the last four years.
We were just reminiscing a little bit -- I've known Ken since we were both running for the Senate together and became the only two incoming Democrats in our Senate class -- Pete Rouse remembers this. It was a lonely time. (Laughter.) We actually lived in the same building when we first arrived in Washington. And, Ken, you'll recall it was a little discouraging because basically everyone else who lived there was 20 or 25. (Laughter.) So we were the two geriatrics in this building.
But I came to appreciate quickly not just his friendship -- which, if you've got Ken Salazar as a friend, you've got a real friend. Not only did I come to appreciate his jump shot -- he is surprisingly quick on the court -- (laughter) -- but also his patriotism, and his belief that we've got a responsibility to care for the land with which we've been blessed.
And it's not surprising that Ken feels this way -- after all, his ancestors were living here before the Mayflower set sail. As he explains it -- and relevant, as we are working to get immigration reform passed -- his family did not cross the border, the border crossed them. (Laughter.) And that's why, when I needed somebody to lead Interior, I didn't have to look very far.
Since being confirmed, Ken has cracked down on waste. He's improved the management of the Department to make it work better for the American people. He has ushered in a new era of conservation for our land, our water and our wildlife. He's established seven new national parks, 10 new national wildlife refuges. He has opened more public land and water for safe and responsible energy production, not just gas and oil but also wind and solar, creating thousands of new jobs and nearly doubling our use of renewable energy in this country. He has helped to forge what is probably the strongest working relationship with tribal leaders that the federal government has seen in modern times. And when the unexpected has happened -- like the Gulf oil spill or Hurricane Sandy -- he has been on the ground making sure that people get help right away and we deal with these challenges as professionally as possible.
So I really like Ken Salazar, if you haven't gotten the point. (Laughter.) Ken is now ready to head back to Colorado and spend more time with Hope and his family. And so in addition to just saying thank you, Ken, for the extraordinary work that you've done, Ken is also going to have the opportunity to introduce his successor. And I am extraordinarily proud today to nominate another strong and capable leader to take the reins at Interior, and that is Ms. Sally Jewell.
In high school, Sally's aptitude test showed she had a knack for mechanical reasoning and spatial ability. (Laughter.) We checked. We do thorough vetting before nominations. (Laughter.) Of course, her recommended professions after she took these tests were to be a nurse or a teacher -- just like all the other girls in her class. And it wasn't until she was an undergraduate at the University of Washington studying to be a dentist when Sally realized her boyfriend's homework was more interesting than hers, and she decided to become an engineer.
After graduation, Sally went on to work in the oil fields of Oklahoma and Colorado. Later, she brought her experience in the energy sector to banking, where she spent 19 years determining what makes companies succeed and fail. And most recently as the CEO of REI -- a position that she's held for the last eight years -- Sally has helped turn a stalling outdoor retailer into one of America's most successful and environmentally conscious companies. Last year, REI donated almost $4 million to protect trails and parks, and 20 percent of the electricity used in their stores comes from renewable sources.
So even as Sally has spent the majority of her career outside of Washington -- where, I might add, the majority of our interior is located -- (laughter) -- she is an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future. She is committed to building our nation-to-nation relationship with Indian Country. She knows the link between conservation and good jobs. She 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. She has shown that a company with more than $1 billion in sales can do the right thing for our planet.
Sally's broad expertise and set of values I know are going to serve her well as she takes on these new challenges. She's got a wonderful and supportive family who I understand enjoy the great outdoors just like she does. So they've got a vested interest in making sure that the Department of the Interior is doing the right thing. And when Sally is confirmed, I'm willing to bet that she will be the first Secretary of the Interior who frequently hikes Mailbox Peak in her native Washington State and who once spent a month climbing mountains in Antarctica, which is just not something I'd think of doing -- (laughter) -- because it seems like it would be cold, and I was born in Hawaii. (Laughter.)
So for Sally, the toughest part of this job will probably be sitting behind a desk. I suspect she'll want to get out of the office quite a bit. But, again, I want to thank Ken Salazar and the entire Salazar family for their extraordinary service, their extraordinary friendship. The Department of the Interior is stronger, this country is stronger, our natural resources are in a better place because of his extraordinary service. I could not be more thrilled with the work that Sally I know is going to do in following that path that Ken has carved. I expect the Senate to confirm her as quickly as possible.
And with that, I'd like to invite both of them to say a few words, starting with my dear friend, Ken Salazar. (Applause.)
SECRETARY SALAZAR: Thank you, Mr. President. Is it the same one I have?
THE PRESIDENT: No, that's Sally's. (Laughter.) I just didn't want to get them mixed up.
SECRETARY SALAZAR: Let me just first of all say to President Obama that I am humbled and honored beyond imagination to have been a part of the President Obama dream team for the United States of America. His presidency is historic, his team in the White House is historic, and the team at the Department of the Interior are historic. And for that, I will ever be eternally grateful to you, my wonderful friend, Mr. President. (Applause.)
So with your leadership and support, and this wonderful team that we have here, we have in fact changed the way that the Department of the Interior does business. We have seized the opportunity together with our other colleagues in the Cabinet and under the President's leadership and your stellar staff here at the White House to put the nation on a path towards energy independence. Today, the largest solar projects in the history of the world are coming up out of the deserts of the public lands of the United States, and our foreign oil imports are at the lowest that they have been since 1995.
I'm proud, Mr. President, of you and your team, because of your leadership on conservation for America -- from your support in the signing of the historic 2009 Public Lands Act to the launch of America's Great Outdoors -- together, we have ushered in a 21st century conservation agenda and preserved the crown jewels of our nation, from the crown of the continent to Montana to the Florida Everglades to the Statue of Liberty.
I'm proud of our historic work -- and perhaps more proud of this than almost anything else -- for the nation's first Americans. From resolving the longstanding conflicts like Cobell to delivering clean drinking water to places like the Navajo nation, you have given credibility, Mr. President, to the proposition that the nation's first Americans, too, will share in the American Dream.
Mr. President, my parents pushed their eight children to become first-generation college graduates, and taught us that anything was possible in this nation of ours. As your Secretary of Interior, you have given to me the opportunity to prove them right and to achieve that American Dream. And for that, Hope, my wife, and my entire family will be eternally grateful to you.
Today, Mr. President, I'm also proud to stand with you here as you announce your selection of an outstanding person to be your nominee for Secretary of Interior. Sally Jewell knows firsthand the inextricable link between conservation and the economy. Sally was a key contributor to you and to your entire team in the creation of the America's Great Outdoors agenda. She's been a champion of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and so many other conservation issues of our time. And I also know that her successful business record and experience as an oil and gas engineer will serve her well as she implements your all-of-the-above energy agenda, which has been such a keystone to you over the last four years. And I'm sure you will have more to say about that very soon.
So, Mr. President, I believe that, as you have done with all the decisions that you have made since I have been working with you and your team, this is a stellar decision. And you have chosen somebody who will be a stellar, outstanding Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell. (Applause.)
MS. JEWELL: Well, thank you, Mr. President, for your kind words and for the confidence you're placing in me with this nomination. I have a great job at REI today, but there's no role that compares than the call to serve my country as Secretary of the Department of Interior. I'm humbled and I'm energized by this opportunity, and I look forward to getting to know members of the Senate as they consider my nomination in the coming weeks.
Thank you, Secretary Salazar, for the opportunities you've given to people across this country to engage with the Department of Interior, sharing their hopes and their dreams for our public lands, our resources, our people -- especially our first people -- our history and our culture. I look forward to working with the dedicated employees at Interior who work so hard to care for our land and our resources every day. I'm going to do my best to fill those big boots of yours -- (laughter) -- but I think I might get lost in your hat. (Laughter.)
Thank you, Warren, my husband of nearly 35 years; my two children -- Peter and Anne -- for their love and their support on this career journey. I'm excited to take this new challenge. Thank you so much.
THE PRESIDENT: You're going to do great.
MS. JEWELL: Thank you. (Applause.)