Senate Republicans push Interior nominee on fossil fuels, jobs

Rep. Deb Haaland was pressed by Sen. John Barrasso on the subject of fossil fuels and climate...
Rep. Deb Haaland was pressed by Sen. John Barrasso on the subject of fossil fuels and climate change during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 7:10 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and senators from other resource producing states had harsh questions for New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, President Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of the Interior, in a confirmation hearing in the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Haaland, if confirmed, would become the first Native American woman to hold the cabinet post, which oversees more than 480 million acres of public lands, 700 million acres of subsurface minerals and 1.7 billion acres of the outer continental shelf.

She was introduced by a guest to the Senate, Alaska’s lone Congressman, Rep. Don Young, who said though he and Haaland disagree on carbon fuels, the two of them had worked together across the political aisle in the House Natural Resources Committee.

“I have a theory, because I’m a mariner, that the captain of the ship has a right to choose who he has as the crew,” Young said in his introduction of Haaland to the Senate committee. “President Biden has chosen Deb, and she has accepted, and I would suggest, respectfully, you’ll find out that she will listen to you.”

Young said while they may not change each other’s final opinions, “it’s my job to convince her she’s not all right, and her job to convince me that I’m not all right.”

Young noted the historic implication if Haaland were to be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior.

“She’ll be able to raise the American Indian, the first Americans to the position I think they can be and have achieved in the state of Alaska. For that I’m very proud,” he said.

The senators who interviewed Haaland in the hearing all acknowledged the historic opportunity for Haaland to become the first Indigenous woman to hold the post, but those representing resource-producing states gave a much tougher line of questioning, particularly in regards to executive actions the Biden administration has already taken, and on her stance on resource extraction.

Murkowski, a Republican, pointedly described the Department of Interior’s role in Alaskans’ lives.

“This is a relationship that some have described as landlord-tenant. That’s not a very good relationship to have,” Murkowski said. “We would much prefer it to be a partnership.”

Murkowski said Alaska had seen more revenue loss this year than any other state, emphasizing the importance to protect Alaska jobs, including in the resource industries.

“We were one of only two states in the nation that were specifically targeted by President Biden’s Day 1 executive orders,” Murkowski said, continuing that Alaska was specifically named on seven occasions beyond the first day’s orders. “From Alaska’s perspective, you’ve got to understand why they’re looking at it saying, ‘Wait a minute, why is this administration out to get us?’”

She asked Haaland what her approach would be to oil, gas and mineral development in a state like Alaska.

Haaland responded that the president doesn’t want to cripple any state. She said she would rely on her relationship with Murkowski to work together and understand the unique issues in Alaska.

Murkowski pressed further, asking Haaland to ensure that, though a number of President Donald Trump’s rules that opened up oil and gas exploration in Alaska are in court, she supports projects that underwent the required processes and environmental reviews, emphasizing the work that non-political Department of Interior employees have completed for those reviews.

Haaland said that she would uphold the law and the court’s findings in those cases under litigation.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and the ranking Republican on the committee, pressed Haaland on past comments she’s made on oil and gas development.

“You had said you will work your heart out for everyone, including fossil fuel workers,” he said. “My question for you is: Why not let those workers keep their jobs?”

Haaland said the pause on the petroleum program is not permanent, and there are still many leases.

“It’s my understanding that President Biden has just put a pause on new leases, he hasn’t banned new leases,” she said.

When asked if a ban on new oil development on federal lands would curb worldwide demand for fossil fuels, Haaland said she believed it was an issue on which everyone should work together.

Barrasso raised issue with a campaign stance on Haaland’s congressional campaign website, in which she had pledged to vote against all new oil and gas infrastructure. Haaland said that if confirmed as Interior Secretary, her role would be to support all Americans, not just the constituents in her New Mexico district, as is her role as a member of Congress.

“There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come,” Haaland said in her opening remarks. “I know how important oil and gas revenues are to critical services. But we also must recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed.”

The confirmation hearing continues Wednesday in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

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