WASHINGTON — Rep. Deb Haaland confronted expected tough questioning from Republican senators on Tuesday at her confirmation hearing to become the first Native American secretary of the Department of the Interior.
But the New Mexico Democrat also drew support from Rep. Don Young, a longtime Alaska Republican who made a quick appearance to praise her for her willingness to work with GOP colleagues in the House. Many of Haaland’s critics are from oil-and gas-producing states in the West and have slammed the Biden administration’s recent moves on energy policy.
“I have a lot at stake here. I am an oil-producing state too,” Young told members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “She’ll work for us and she’ll reach across the aisle. If we have people in the Department of Interior like Deb maybe there’ll be a balance.”
The hearing will continue on Wednesday.
Haaland began her opening statement by recognizing the ancestral homelands of the Nacotchtank, Anacostan, and Piscataway people, who were the original stewards of the land that Washington, D.C., was built upon.
If confirmed, Haaland, who is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo, would run the $21 billion department that manages more than 450 million acres of public lands. The Interior secretary also oversees 70,000 employees and 574 American Indian and Alaska Native tribal communities.
“I carry my life experiences with me everywhere I go. It’s those experiences that give me hope for the future,” Haaland said. “If an Indigenous woman from humble beginnings can be confirmed as secretary of the Interior, our country holds promise for everyone.”
While many questions centered on oil and gas production, Sen. Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, challenged Haaland’s support of a bill that would reintroduce grizzly bears on tribal lands. He argued that the population of grizzly bears was high enough that it didn’t need to be considered a threatened species anymore.
“Why would you co-sponsor a bill like that when the science tells us the bear numbers are well above recovery targets?” he asked.
“I imagine at the time, I was caring about the bears,” she said.
Priorities at Interior
The committee chair, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has said he remains undecided on supporting her nomination, asked Haaland what her top priorities would be if confirmed to lead the Interior Department.
Haaland said she would work to provide clean energy jobs, restore public lands, support federal employees and focus on cleaning up abandoned mines across the country.
In the House, she chaired the Natural Resources subcommittee that oversees public lands and national parks. Read more