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Grijalva hopes to work with Haaland to 'repair' Interior

Grijalva hopes to work with Haaland to 'repair' Interior
© Bonnie Cash

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) says his legislative priorities this year will include legislation to advance environmental justice and update the country’s laws governing public lands mining.

In an interview with The Hill this week, Grijalva also said he is looking forward to working with President BidenJoe BidenSenate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill Ex-Trump appointee arrested in Capitol riot complains he won't be able to sleep in jail Biden helps broker Senate deal on unemployment benefits MORE’s nominee to lead the Interior Department, Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Virus relief bill headed for weekend vote The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Increased security on Capitol Hill amid QAnon's March 4 date Murkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination MORE (D-N.M.), on a “repair job” at the department.

Grijalva returns to the helm of the committee with a Democratic president and the Senate in his party’s control after becoming the panel’s lead lawmaker in 2019, after his party took the House majority.

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The narrow margins in the 50-50 Senate, where some Senate Democrats are cool to more progressive proposals on climate change, raise questions about how much will change for Grijalva’s agenda.

Asked how much has changed, Grijalva said, “We’re going to find out.”

“I don’t want to begin to negotiate the legislation,” he added. “I think we need to put the best piece of legislation [forward], set the bar high, be bold about it, and then deal with whatever discussions we need to have with our colleagues in the Senate.”

Grijalva is targeting bills introduced in the last Congress that would use oceans and public lands as solutions to climate change.

One measure, the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act, aims to protect and restore ocean ecosystems that capture carbon. The bill would prohibit oil and gas leasing in the outer continental shelf and promote offshore wind energy. 

Another measure would require the Interior Department and Forest Service to meet increasing emissions reduction targets to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040. 

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Grijalva also wants to revive legislation that would require the consideration of how new pollution discharges would combine with existing pollution sources in an area to impact health when deciding whether to grant a permit to allow the new emissions. The bill would also require greater community involvement in construction permitting and ban environmental discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. 

The lawmaker stressed that environmental justice touches many other issues like systemic racism and public health, since communities of color are often subject to more pollution. He added that he thinks his bill will unify lawmakers and communities, even if it may not garner bipartisan support. 

“This to me is one of the best bridge issues that we have,” Grijalva said. “Will it have a total bipartisan effect? I don’t know, I doubt it, but it’s going to have a unifying effect with the general public.”

He also said the committee would like to advance legislation important to indigenous groups, such as codifying the process for consultations between Native American tribes and the federal government.

Grijalva also hopes to change a 19th century law that allows companies to extract minerals from public lands without paying royalties to the government and that can prevent the federal government from blocking hardrock mining. He argued that the government should have the right to refuse mining permits and that companies should have to pay to mine. 

“We’ve got a 19th century law in a 21st century reality,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is bring mining up to the times that we’re in right now so that every decision about a mining location doesn’t become the ... public fight that it is almost everywhere in this country.”

The chairman said that while his panel will work on completing some existing oversight they’re doing, including the impacts of former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new tranche of endorsements DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food MORE’s border wall, its oversight priorities will shift during the Biden administration. 

“We don’t feel like we’re in a combative, hostile confrontation with the Department of Interior going in,” said Grijalva, who backed Haaland for the secretary position.

“What I’d like to see is also that we look at the exterior influences that occurred particularly the last four years relative to industry, individuals, lobbying firms et cetera,” he said. 

Grijalva also said his oversight would include looking at the power of multinational mining companies, and the revolving door between industry and government.

“I’m fixated on the multinationals ... that have this multinational presence across the globe and they’re doing business in this country paying no royalties and having no environmental safeguards or employee protections in all the parts of the world and complaining about the fact that we have those here,” he said. 

“And then the lobbying firms that do business with mining, with fossil fuels and the influence that they have in terms of directing how Interior functioned the last four years,” the chairman added. 

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Committee Democrats had a tense relationship with the Trump administration and had accused it of stonewalling the panel’s ability to conduct oversight. Last year, the committee voted along party lines to give Grijalva the power to subpoena documents from the Interior Department. 

Grijalva expressed optimism about his potential to work collaboratively with the Haaland on issues such as historic preservation, public lands, oceans, as well as issues pertaining to department personnel. 

“One of the things that I would like to work cooperatively with her, that I think is essential in the repair job, is the morale of the employee base and the plan to diversify,” he said.