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Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing

JIM WATSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
US Representative Deb Haaland, Democrat of New Mexico, testifies during the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to be Interior Secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on February 23, 2021. 

Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland sought to court moderates while facing tough questions during her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday. 

Haaland, a progressive House Democrat from New Mexico who has expressed support for the Green New Deal and opposition to a controversial oil and gas extraction method called fracking, emphasized her bipartisan record in making her case. 

She was introduced on the first of two days of question-and-answer sessions by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who noted that he disagreed with her on fossil fuels but stressed that “she will listen to you.”

Haaland faced forceful opposition from Republicans who questioned her on fracking, fossil fuels and a past tweet in which she said that Republicans don’t believe in science. 

She repeatedly noted that she will be implementing President Biden’s agenda, not her own. Biden has said he doesn’t support the Green New Deal, and he opposes bans on fracking.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s chairman and the Senate’s key swing vote, didn’t reveal where he stands on Haaland during the hearing, saying in his opening remarks that he looks forward to “getting to know more about her views.”

“I have always believed that the president should be given wide latitude in the selection of his or her Cabinet, but I also take the Senate’s constitutional obligation to advise and consent to the president’s nomination seriously,” Manchin said. 

Following the hearing, his office released a statement saying that Haaland “commits to working with Chairman Manchin on West Virginia priorities,” but stopped short of voicing support for her nomination.

In her own opening statement, Haaland stressed finding a “balance” between fossil fuels and fighting climate change. 

“There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come. I know how important oil and gas revenues are to fund critical services,” she said. 

“But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed,” Haaland added. 

She said during the hearing that if confirmed, her top priorities will be appreciating career employees, promoting clean energy and clean energy jobs and working on broadband internet and missing and murdered indigenous women in Indian Country. 

If confirmed, Haaland will be the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, and would oversee a department that has significant responsibility to indigenous tribes. 

“The historic nature of my confirmation is not lost on me, but I will say that it is not about me. Rather, I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans — moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us,” she said.

She touted her credentials working across the aisle, noting that in 2019, she introduced the most bills with a bipartisan cosponsor of any congressional freshman. 

Republicans pressed Haaland over her stance on fracking, pipelines and whether she would recommend extending Biden’s pause on new oil and gas leases on federal lands. 

She responded that it “is President Biden’s agenda, not my own agenda, that I would be moving forward.”

She was also asked specifically about her stance on the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Army Corps of Engineers, which is not part of the Interior Department, will have to decide whether to shut the pipeline down. 

Haaland acknowledged that she participated in a protest against the pipeline over tribal consultation issues, but did not directly say what her current stance is. 

“I did go to stand with the water protectors during that several years back. The reason I did that is because I agreed with the tribe that they felt they weren’t consulted in the best way,” she said. 

Like Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden, who will not be backed by Manchin, Haaland was asked about a tweet criticizing Republicans, alleging they “don’t believe in science.” 

“Three senators on this committee are medical doctors,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “We’re also Republicans. Do you think that as medical doctors we don’t believe in science?”

“If you’re a doctor I would assume that you believe in science,” Haaland responded. 

Barrasso also asked Haaland if she believes the federal government should continue to permit oil and gas wells and coal mines. 

She responded yes to both. 

During the hearing, Haaland also stressed opportunities for jobs related to taking care of abandoned mines and plugging orphaned gas wells, as well as Biden’s pledge to create a Civilian Climate Corps, which would create jobs conserving public lands and increasing reforestation. 

“I believe there are millions of jobs in a clean energy future for Americans and if I’m confirmed I’d be honored to help the president move those forward,” Haaland said. 

Tuesday’s hearing will constitute just the first day of questioning for Haaland. Senators will return on Wednesday morning for a second round of questions. 

It’s not clear when the committee vote on Haaland’s nomination will take place.

The Energy and Natural Resources panel voted on a prior nominee, Jennifer Granholm, a week after her confirmation hearing in January. But Granholm, who would lead the Energy Department, still has not been confirmed by the full Senate, one of several of Biden’s nominees yet to clear the upper chamber. 

If she’s confirmed, Haaland will take charge of the natural resources-focused department, where she’ll play a role in carrying out Biden’s goal of bringing the country to carbon neutrality by 2050 and conserving 30 percent of the country’s lands and water by 2030.

Updated at 2:50 p.m.

Tags Deb Haaland Don Young Interior Department Jennifer Granholm Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Barrasso Neera Tanden

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