She does and thats a good thing.
I acknowledge that we are on the ancestral homelands of the Nacotchtank, Anacostan, and Piscataway people, Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico said in her opening remarks on the first day of her Senate confirmation hearing to lead the Interior Department.
Its likely the first time a Cabinet nominee acknowledged tribal lands upon testifying before the Senate. If confirmed, Haaland a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe would also be the first Native American Cabinet secretary in history.
But it is her pledge to protect the environment and tribal communities that has some in the Republican Party up in arms. In the days leading up to Tuesdays hearing, Republican Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming and Steve Daines of Montana, both of whom have financial ties to the oil industry, have attacked Haalands plans to transition away from fossil fuels and have threatened to block her nomination.
Barrasso, the top Republican official of the committee holding Haalands confirmation, said he is troubled by many of [Haalands] radical views, such as opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and supporting the Green New Deal, both of which are supported by the majority of Democratic voters. The Wyoming senator, who has taken $1.7 million from Big Oil since becoming senator in 2007, went on to press Haaland on questions about her personal views on Bidens executive actions on temporarily pausing new oil and gas drilling leases on public lands, in addition to demands that she provide evidence that fracking actually contributes to the climate crisis.
The radical nature they are referring to is Haaland having spent her career committed to protecting the environment and Indigenous communities by challenging the status quo that relying on the fossil fuel industry is needed to bolster the economy. During the hearing, she repeatedly emphasized that, if confirmed as Interior secretary, she will work hard to bridge party lines and take Congress members concerns into consideration but that she was not going to push aside environmental concerns or Bidens climate agenda.
As Ive learned in this role, theres 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, Haaland said in her opening remarks. But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed.
The US Interior Department oversees the countrys 500 million acres of public lands, which are set to play a crucial role in Bidens sweeping climate agenda to slash greenhouse gas emissions. But over the past few decades, the lands have instead been major contributors to the climate crisis because they hold massive reserves of fossil fuels, which are extracted and burned by oil and gas companies, thus releasing planet-warming emissions.
President Biden has promised a climate-focused agenda, and spent his first hours in office dismantling energy policies that catered to the fossil fuel industry and centering environmental justice throughout the federal government. One of the major concerns from Republicans is that a pause on new fossil fuel activities would negatively affect American jobs a theme that served as the backdrop of their line of questioning during Haalands hearing.
But Haaland said she is committed to finding the right balance between economic growth and saving the planet. As part of this balance, the Department has a role in harnessing the clean energy potential of our public lands to create jobs and new economic opportunities, she said. The Presidents agenda demonstrates that Americas public lands can and should be engines for clean energy production.
Despite GOP pushback, Haalands confirmation is still set to go through since the Republican Party is now in the congressional minority, according to the HuffPost. Haaland could even gain the support of Alaskan Republican moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whose home state is 18 percent Alaska Native. Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska even stopped by Tuesdays hearing to give a bipartisan introduction of Haaland and encouraged his GOP colleagues to confirm Haaland for the role.
She has worked with me. She has crossed the aisle, and as a member of this administration, I know she will do a good job, Young said. Respectfully, I want you to listen to her. Understand that theres a broad picture.
Democrats note the historic nature of Haaland possibly overseeing tribal lands
Beyond overseeing public lands, the Interior Department also manages the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which oversees roughly 55 million acres of tribal land. Set to be the first Native American cabinet secretary nominee in history, Haaland has first-hand knowledge of how to improve tribal communities, as she has done as the vice chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources and the chair of the subcommittee on national parks, forests, and public lands.
Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico pointed out at the beginning of the hearing that having a Native American secretary for the Interior is frankly something that should have happened a long time ago.
How can we help make Indian lives better? Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont asked Haaland, who listed numerous issues such as the lack of education funding, not having clean air and water, the missing Native Americans, and severe health care disparities.
Its the job of the federal government to live up to its tribal trust promises, Haaland said. The pandemic has highlighted these disparities. If you dont have your health, you dont have anything.
Haaland, who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline before joining Congress as one of the first two Native American women, also received several questions from Republican senators, including possibly recusing herself in decisions related to the oil pipeline. But Haalands opposition of the pipeline, which sparked the months-long Standing Rock protests, stems from the fact that it cuts through tribal lands posing the potential to contaminate the primary source of drinking water for nearby tribes.
In her opening remarks, Haaland said one of her utmost priorities, if confirmed as Interior secretary, is to honor the sovereignty of tribal nations and recognize their part in Americas story.
When senators return on Wednesday for a second round of questioning before their vote, she could be one step closer to holding that honor.