Interior Nominee Defends Biden Energy Policy on Day 2 of Senate Hearing

Deb Haaland threw her support behind the president’s decision to block the Keystone XL pipeline and halt new oil and gas leases on federal land during a second round of questioning from senators.

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., speaks during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Tuesday on her nomination to be Interior secretary. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Republican senators on Wednesday picked up where they left off the day before in grilling President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Interior Department over the administration’s energy policies.

If confirmed, Congresswoman Deb Haaland would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.  

GOP lawmakers on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee continued Wednesday to hammer the New Mexico Democrat on her stances against the oil and natural gas industry. One of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, Haaland supported protesters who stood against construction of the Dakota Access pipeline and has advocated for a greater focus on renewable energy.

Senator Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, grilled Haaland as he did Tuesday over whether she supported Biden’s executive order to revoke the Keystone XL pipeline’s operational permit. Following up, Idaho Senator James Risch asked Haaland more than three times if she supported the president’s decision to halt the project. She deferred to Biden’s presidential authority.

“Senator, if I say that I support President Biden’s agenda, I assume that you could take my answer as a yes,” Haaland replied.

Republicans also focused their frustration on the Biden administration’s pause on granting new oil and gas leases on federal land.

Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, took time Wednesday to clear up some misconceptions with the issue. The oil and gas industry currently holds 26 million acres in land leases for onshore development and 12 million for offshore development, he said, adding that 53% of onshore leases and 77% of offshore leases are either unused or undeveloped.

Manchin said it was the oil and gas companies that still needed to take action, which he said supported the review of existing leases.

Haaland acknowledged companies with existing leases can still apply for drilling permits.  

“Now, I’m not at the department yet so I don’t know every single issue, however, it’s my understanding that yes, permits are still moving through,” Haaland said. “I know that each permit might require something different with respect to how they’re reviewing it, but it is my understanding that they are moving those through.”

Another refrain repeated by Republicans on Wednesday was that Haaland’s past rhetoric would affect her decision-making as Interior secretary. Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, pointed to her support for the federal legalization of marijuana to replace oil and gas revenues for local school funding.

Haaland responded she was merely suggesting her state diversify its revenue streams.

“I recognize that the role of a Cabinet secretary is far different from that of a congresswoman,” she said. “I recognize that I’m not just worried about my one district in New Mexico but the entire country.”

Stewardship of the planet was a common theme in Haaland’s remarks. She told senators on Tuesday how she spent her childhood summers in Mesita, New Mexico, on the Laguna Pueblo reservation learning about the importance of water and natural resources. It was through that lens, Haaland said, that she would review a myriad of drilling permits and other energy production methods on federal lands if confirmed to her post.

“This Earth provides us with every single thing we need, and it has for millennia, and I feel very strongly that if we take a lot of care to make sure that we are doing everything we can…our grandchildren should be able to rely on what they get from the Earth as much as we do,” she said Wednesday.

Her overwhelming support from the Native American community has been apparent during her confirmation hearings.

On Wednesday, Haaland shared reaction from a friend who caught her remarks remotely the day before on a solar-powered radio that she had purchased for him, as he has no access to electricity. He texted her Wednesday morning with the Navajo code word for America, “nehemah,” which means “our mother.”

“I feel very strongly that that sums up what we’re dealing with. This is all of our country, this is our mother, you’ve heard the Earth referred to as Mother Earth,” Haaland said. “It’s difficult to not feel obligated to protect this land and I feel that every indigenous person in this country understands that, which is why we have such a high rate of our people who serve in the military. We want to protect this country.”

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