CABINET HEARING: Deb Haaland, Nominee for Secretary of the Interior

February 23 and 24, 2021
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Questions from Senators touched on topics including fossil fuels, public lands and tribal areas, the consequences of shipping energy and mineral production overseas, and endangered species. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) introduced Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) to the Committee and praised her credentials and strength of character. 

ISSUES RAISED

  • Fossil Fuels – Senators repeatedly questioned Rep. Haaland about her commitment not to push for the elimination of fossil fuels. Rep. Haaland stated that fossil fuels play a critical role in America’s  infrastructure and energy independence. Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) asked Rep. Haaland if it is in the best interest of the U.S. to maintain its energy independence and asked what role fossil fuels play. Rep. Haaland said the U.S. needs to maintain its energy independence and move forward with renewable technology and innovation while not eliminating fossil fuels. Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) asked Rep. Haaland if the federal government should continue to permit oil wells, gas wells, and coal mines. Rep. Haaland said the federal government should grant permits for all of those. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) asked Rep. Haaland to explain her past comments on banning oil and gas leasing on public lands. Rep. Haaland said the federal land leasing moratorium is a pause on new leases, not existing leases. She said if she is confirmed as Interior Secretary, President Biden’s agenda will be implemented. Rep. Haaland added that President Biden does not support a ban on fracking. 
  • Public Lands and Tribal Areas – Senators asked Rep. Haaland to explain her approach towards public lands. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) asked Rep. Haaland if stakeholders can be involved in the National Monument designation process. Rep. Haaland said everyone should have a say in National Monument designation. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) asked Rep. Haaland about her approach towards oil, gas, and mineral resource development in tribal areas. Rep. Haaland said the pause on leases is on tribal, not public lands. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) asked Rep. Haaland if she supports President Biden’s action on the Keystone XL pipeline. Rep. Haaland stated that the decision was President Biden’s to make, not hers. Sen. Cassidy added that the pipeline would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Domestic Production – Committee Republicans argued that banning domestic fossil fuel production will buoy foreign production. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) said that in 2020, the Interior Department disbursed $66.7 million in revenue to the state of North Dakota from production on federal lands. Sen. Hoeven asked Rep. Haaland whether she expects imports of foreign oil to go up or down if the U.S. stops developing oil and gas on federal lands. Rep. Haaland said if confirmed, she is happy to be briefed on the issue and discuss further. Senator James Risch (R-ID) said Congress has passed bipartisan legislation to urge the Biden administration to use sanctions to shut down the Nord Stream construction, yet that action has not been taken. Sen. Risch asked Rep. Haaland how she squares shutting down jobs in the U.S. energy sector while encouraging jobs in the energy sector in Russia. Rep. Haaland said there is only a pause on new gas and oil leases. Currently, the existing valid leases are moving forward and permitting is moving forward. Rep. Haaland added that President Biden isn’t looking to shut down all oil and gas. Sen. Daines said the Democratic Republic of the Congo produces the vast majority of cobalt for the world, which is used for batteries in electric vehicles and renewable energy. Sen. Daines asked Rep. Haaland how she plans to source raw materials for renewable energy and whether the policies she has supported are actually moving money to operations overseas. Rep. Haaland said the U.S. needs to mine responsibly and ensure that it has energy independence in the future.
  • Endangered Species Act – Senators of both parties asked Rep. Haaland about the Endangered Species Act and her thoughts on its metrics for success. Sen. Lankford asked Rep. Haaland if she believes the goal of the Endangered Species Act is to keep endangered species on the list or to graduate endangered species off the list. Rep. Haaland said the goal is to restore species. Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) asked Rep. Haaland how she feels about voluntary conservation and how she measures success when it comes to endangered species. Rep. Haaland said she supports voluntary conservation and said the Endangered Species Act is governed by science. 

TAKEAWAY

Rep. Haaland’s confirmation hearing essentially served as a proxy debate for the Biden administration’s overall approach to energy policy. During Rep. Haaland’s hearing, Senators from both sides of the aisle questioned her about the administration’s commitment to an “all of the above” approach as it relates to the nation’s energy production. Republican Senators also expressed serious concerns over previous comments made by Rep. Haaland regarding the need to stop drilling on federal lands managed by the Interior Department. However, throughout the barrage of questions, Rep. Haaland remained calm, cool, and collected as she assured Senators that fossil fuels would continue to play a critical role in America’s infrastructure and energy independence.

Rep. Haaland also emphasized that although she and the President supported alternative forms of renewable energy (i.e., solar, wind, and other clean energy) as critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the transition to renewables would have to be slowly and pragmatically phased in.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Rep. Haaland’s nomination is truly historic as she would be the first Native American Cabinet Secretary if confirmed. During the confirmation hearing, nearly every Republican Senator appeared extremely unlikely to support her nomination, though only Senator Daines actually stated that he would vote in opposition. However, the Democrats seem unified in supporting Rep. Haaland and with Senator Manchin announcing his support, she likely has the requisite votes to be ultimately confirmed. Even with the necessary votes, Rep. Haaland’s confirmation still has a lengthy path ahead, as the Senate has a waiting list of nominees to confirm, and limited time before the Senate will begin consideration of the COVID-19 relief package moving through the House.