President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Interior Department faced sharp questions from Republicans Tuesday over what several called her “radical” ideas that include opposition to fracking and the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Deb Haaland, a New Mexico congresswoman named to lead the Interior Department, tried to reassure GOP lawmakers, saying she is committed to “strike the right balance” as the department manages oil drilling and other energy development while seeking to conserve public lands and address climate change.
If confirmed, Haaland, 60, would be the first Native American to lead a cabinet agency.
Native Americans see her nomination as the best chance to move from consultation on tribal issues to consent and to put more land into the hands of tribal nations either outright or through stewardship agreements. The Interior Department has broad oversight over nearly 600 federally recognized tribes as well as energy development and other uses for the nation’s sprawling federal lands.
“The historic nature of my confirmation is not lost on me, but I will say that it is not about me,″ Haaland testified. “Rather, I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans — moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us.″
Haaland’s hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was adjourned after nearly 2½ hours and will resume Wednesday.
Under questioning from Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, the panel’s chairman, Haaland said the U.S. will continue to rely on fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas /zigman2/quotes/210189548/delayed NG00 +0.26% even as it moves toward Biden’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by midcentury. The transition to clean energy “is not going to happen overnight,” she said.
Manchin, publicly undecided on Haaland’s nomination, appeared relieved, saying he supports “innovation, not elimination” of fossil fuels.
Sen. Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, was less impressed. He displayed a large chart featuring a quote from last November, before Haaland was selected by Biden to lead the department, in which she said: “If I had my way, it’d be great to stop all gas and oil leasing on federal and public lands.”
If confirmed as interior secretary, “you will get to have it your way,” Daines told Haaland.
She replied that Biden’s vision — not hers — will set the course for the department. “It is President Biden’s agenda, not my own agenda, that I will be moving forward,” Haaland said, an answer she repeated several times.
While Biden imposed a moratorium on oil and gas drilling on federal lands — which doesn’t apply to tribal lands — he has repeatedly said he does not oppose fracking. Biden rejected the long-planned Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office.
Haaland also faced questions over her appearance at protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota before she was elected to Congress in 2018.
Haaland said she went there in solidarity with Native American tribes and other “water protectors” who “felt they were not consulted in the best way” before the multistate oil pipeline was approved.
Asked by Sen. John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, if she would oppose a renewal of the pipeline permit, Haaland said she would first ensure that tribes are properly consulted. She told Hoeven she also would “listen to you and consult with you.”