Energy & Environment

Senate confirms Haaland to lead Interior

The Senate on Monday voted to confirm Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) to lead the Interior Department, making her the nation’s first Native American Cabinet secretary. 

The Senate voted 51-40 to confirm Haaland. Nine members missed the vote.

GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) backed Haaland along with the Democrats in attendance.

In a tweet, Haaland thanked the Senate for confirming her. 

“As Secretary of @Interior, I look forward to collaborating with all [of] you. I am ready to serve. #BeFierce,” she wrote. 

Haaland’s opposition to a controversial method of fossil fuel extraction called fracking, participation in a protest against the Dakota Access pipeline and support for the Green New Deal have made her a favorite among progressives but drawn ire from some Republicans. 

GOP Sens. Steve Daines (Mont.) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) had placed holds on her nomination, with Daines invoking Haaland’s positions on pipelines and fossil fuels and Lummis invoking President Biden’s pause on new leasing for oil and gas development on federal lands. 

During her confirmation hearing, Daines specifically pressed Haaland on her stances on fracking and pipelines in general and particularly Biden’s decision to revoke a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline as well as his leasing suspension. 

Haaland’s supporters touted the historic nature of her confirmation and the importance of having a Native American at the helm of an agency with significant responsibility to the country’s 574 federally recognized tribes. 

“Before America’s public lands were America’s public lands, they were Native American lands, and Deb Haaland will be the first Native American to serve in any president’s Cabinet and the first to serve as the secretary of this department, so that’s kind of a wonderful harmony with history,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) in a speech ahead of the vote.

The U.S. has had a Native American vice president, Charles Curtis, who served from 1929 to 1933, but has never had an Indigenous Cabinet secretary.

Haaland also sought to persuade critics that she would play a different role as Interior secretary, saying that energy from fossil fuels “does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come” while stressing the need to find a “balance” between fossil fuels and fighting climate change. 

She said that the president’s pause on leasing publicly owned lands and waters for oil and gas development would not be a “permanent thing.”

Facing questions about her stances on pipelines and fracking, Haaland said that she would be tasked with implementing Biden’s agenda, not her own.  

Biden has said that he will not ban fracking and does not support the Green New Deal. 

After the vote, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), another vocal opponent of the confirmation, said in a statement that Haaland’s views are “extreme.”

“Representative Haaland’s extreme policy views, lack of substantive answers during the confirmation process, and full support for President Biden’s war on American energy disqualify her for the job of Interior Secretary,” he said. “Her views on American energy fly in the face of the mission of the Department of the Interior.”

Ahead of the vote, Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) said they would support Haaland’s nomination, while Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Sullivan signaled possible support when they backed Haaland during a procedural vote last week. 

Murkowski and Collins noted when they announced their support for Haaland that they don’t agree with her on every issue, but they have brought up matters such as her support for bipartisan conservation legislation and the historic significance of her confirmation.

Murkowski told pool reporters Monday that she still had some doubts.

“I wish that I could say, ‘yes, I’ve got every degree of confidence.’ I don’t so my obligation is to make sure I am on top of this all the time,” she said.

But the Alaska Republican also discussed the history being made. 

“It was significant that you have a Native American woman who will be in a position really oversee, if you will, those lands that are part of their homeland,” she said. “There is clearly that sense of pride, but as important as that is, it is more important that a woman who has achieved this historic position then lives up to it.”

Sullivan, meanwhile, released a statement calling the vote one of the “most difficult I have made during my time in the U.S. Senate” but said he felt he could better advocate for Alaskans at the Interior Department if he voted to confirm Haaland. 

“Our state’s economy and our working families are under pressure, stress and assault due to the pandemic and the Biden administration’s initial hostile actions against Alaska and our resource development sector,” Sullivan said.” I believe that my vote to confirm Congresswoman Haaland as Secretary of the Interior may enhance my ability to successfully advocate for a ceasefire in the Biden administration’s war on the Alaska economy and working families. “

Haaland is expected to play a key role in Biden’s efforts to have the United States reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and in conserving a total of 30 percent of the country’s lands and waters by 2030. 

Haaland, asked during her confirmation hearing whether the “30 by 30” effort would seek to conserve all lands or just those that are federally owned, said the initiative would be “not just relegated to public lands.” 

The Center for American Progress, a left-wing think tank, estimated in 2018 that the country had conserved 12 percent of its lands. 

During her confirmation hearing, Haaland said her priorities will include promoting clean energy and clean energy jobs, increasing access to broadband internet in Native American communities, and dealing with missing and murdered indigenous women.

She 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,” she said at the time.

Haaland was first elected to Congress in 2018 and was one of the two first Native American congresswomen. Representing New Mexico’s 1st District, she also served as vice chairwoman of the Natural Resources Committee and chaired its Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

“As former vice chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Deb Haaland also brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her role as Interior secretary,” said Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) in a floor speech on Monday. “But of all of the qualifications and accomplishments that Deb Haaland will bring to the Department of Interior, there’s one that stands out to those who know her best: her empathy.” 

—Updated at 8:16 p.m.

Tags Ben Ray Lujan Climate change Cynthia Lummis Dakota Access Pipeline Dan Sullivan Deb Haaland Interior Department Joe Biden John Barrasso Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski oil and gas drilling Sheldon Whitehouse Steve Daines Susan Collins
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