Photo: New Secretary of Interior Debra Haaland; Source: Her website

U.S. Senate confirms Debra Haaland as Secretary of the Interior

U.S. Representative Debra Haaland has been confirmed as the new Secretary of the Interior, becoming the first Native American to lead a cabinet agency.

This confirmation secured Haaland a central role in President Joe Biden’s extensive plans to fight climate change.

The U.S. Senate confirmed the New Mexico Democrat 51-40 after she clinched support from several Republicans including South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Maine Senator Susan Collins.

Haaland became one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress in 2018. Her ascension to the cabinet followed weeks of campaigning by Native American tribes and environmental groups in support of her historic appointment.

According to Reuters, she faced resistance from Republican lawmakers who grilled her at a two-day hearing last month about her involvement in pipeline protests, her support of the Green New Deal climate resolution, and the Biden administration’s pause on new federal drilling leases.

Haaland will oversee policies guiding the use of 500 million acres of federal and tribal land, a fifth of the nation’s surface. She would also oversee the U.S. government’s relationship with some 574 federally recognized tribal nations. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe.

Reuters quoted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer who stated that Haaland’s appointment would help repair the relationship between the Interior Department and tribal nations the agency has treated unfairly.

Given the long and troubled relationship between the federal government and tribal nations, the ascension of Haaland to the top of the Interior Department is a profoundly important moment for America”, he said before the vote.

While she will have Cabinet-level decision-making power, she will face competing interests from protecting the environment and elevating Indigenous priorities to managing demands from big oil and climate change deniers”, Megan Hill, a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and director of Harvard’s Project on American Indian Economic Development added.

In a statement given before the confirmation, Haaland said that she would ultimately like to see fossil fuel development phased out completely on the federal domain. “I am wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public lands”, she said.

Haaland is also a staunch supporter of the Green New Deal, a plan to rapidly end America’s reliance on fossil fuels, which will attempt to restore its ecosystems and rebuild its infrastructure.

It is worth reminding that the Department of Interior would launch its review of the federal oil and gas leasing program on 25 March. It will determine whether the Biden administration would permanently halt new leases on federal land and water.

No resistance to Haaland but…

The industry has already reacted to Haaland’s appointment. There is no clear resistance to her appointment, but there are questions and warnings regarding the Interior’s upcoming decision on the federal oil and gas leasing status.

The National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) president Erik Milito said that the organisation was ready to work with the new Secretary and the Biden administration to advance the U.S. energy sector.

During her testimony before the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Secretary Haaland repeatedly spoke on unity and the importance of creating opportunities for every American. She also stated that there was no question that fossil energy will continue to play a major role in America for years to come. We hope that this is the prevailing attitude of the Biden Administration.

But the Biden administration must deploy the right policies – including resuming Gulf of Mexico lease sales – to grow American energy, economic, and environmental opportunities.

Partnering with the women and men of the offshore industry will enable the Biden administration to pursue an offshore energy agenda that truly helps every American”.

In a separate statement, American Petroleum Institute (API) president and CEO Mike Sommers stated: “API congratulates Secretary Haaland on her historic confirmation and looks forward to working with the Department of Interior to shape the policies that will determine America’s energy future.

As Secretary Haaland takes the helm of a department that plays an important role in maintaining access to the nation’s vast energy resources, she faces clear choices. We can build on the significant environmental progress the nation has made while simultaneously leading the world in energy production, or we can return to the days of relying on energy from foreign nations with lower environmental standards.

Secretary Haaland’s first priority should be to lift the federal leasing pause, which is creating significant uncertainty and undermining our nation’s energy security, economic growth and environmental progress.

We have a shared goal for a low-carbon future, but this is the wrong approach and will only lead to more foreign energy imports from countries hostile to American interests”.

Activists on the other hand are hoping that the new Secretary would stick to the plan of phasing out of fossil fuels and hope something new is on the horizon for the United States.

Greenpeace USA Senior Climate Campaigner Lisa Ramsden said: “[…] Deb Haaland made history. The first Native person to lead the Interior Department, she now stands poised to reclaim public lands and waters and put public health above polluter profits.

Fossil fuel interests and their Republican allies in Congress fought her nomination every step of the way, but this time the voice of the people won out.

We look forward to working with Secretary Haaland to ensure workers and communities are protected as our country transitions away from oil, gas, and coal and toward renewable energy”.

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