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Progressives urge Haaland for Interior as short list grows

Progressives urge Haaland for Interior as short list grows
© Greg Nash

A coalition of more than 100 left-leaning environmental and social justice groups are pushing President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenPutin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE to pick Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandOvernight Energy: Biden seeks to reassert US climate leadership | President to 'repeal or replace' Trump decision removing protections for Tongass | Administration proposes its first offshore wind lease sale Biden administration proposes its first offshore wind lease sale  Haaland calls on US to address legacy of Native American boarding schools MORE (D-N.M.) as his Interior Secretary.

Haaland has generated significant momentum with progressives as a Green New Deal backer who would make history as the first Native American to hold the job.

But who may clinch the nomination looks very much in flux amid reports the Biden team offered the job to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamNew Mexico launching vaccine sweepstakes with M in prizes The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Biden vows to get 'more aggressive' on lifestyle benefits of vaccines MORE (D), who turned it down. The team is also considering former Interior Deputy Secretary Michael Connor — another Native American who would provide a historic first.

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“For the last two years, she has fought against the destructive acts and policies of the Trump Administration and the lawless acts of Secretary David Bernhardt,” the groups wrote in a letter referencing Haaland’s work chairing a House Natural Resources subcommittee.

“She understands the urgency to act quickly to repair the damage caused by the Trump Administration, she understands the critical need to reform the Department to ensure that these abuses never occur again, and she understands the need to swiftly implement bold policies to address the most pressing challenges our public lands and waters face — the climate emergency and the extinction crisis.”

The letter was signed by Sunrise Movement, the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace, among others.

The letter gives backing to Haaland over the numerous other New Mexicans being considered for the role, who include Democratic Sens. Tom UdallTom UdallSenate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin Study: Chemical used in paint thinners caused more deaths than EPA identified Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate MORE and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Energy: Company officially nixes Keystone XL pipeline | Government watchdog finds failings, but no Trump influence, in clearing of Lafayette Square Democrats blast Biden climate adviser over infrastructure remarks EPA to revise Trump rollback to water pollution protections MORE.

Brett Hartl with the Center for Biological Diversity, which helped organize the letter, said they were eager to back Haaland, particularly given concerns over Connor.

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Connor worked for the administration at the tail end of President Obama’s time in office when Interior was criticized by progressives for not being aggressive enough on species protection.

Connor now works as an attorney with WilmerHale, where he specializes in natural resources and Native American law. Though his practice primarily involves water law, his law firm offers legal services to oil and gas companies. 

Hartl said Connor would need to release a list of his clients since leaving Interior at the end of the Obama administration.

“Any issues you work on you could be working for the bad guys, and most of those big firms are not representing strong environmental interests to make their bread and butter,” he said.