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Haaland Confirmed by Senate to Be Biden’s Interior Secretary

March 15, 2021, 10:24 PM

The Senate narrowly confirmed Deb Haaland as Interior secretary on Monday, clearing the way for the lawmaker from New Mexico to become the first Native American to serve in any president’s cabinet.

“It is long, long, long past time that this country had a Native American leading the Interior Department,” said Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, said before the vote. “We have got a nominee who is qualified. She is fair. She is going to concentrate on bringing people together, and she is going to make history.”

Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is expected to resign her seat in the House, where she has represented New Mexico since 2019.

The Senate’s 51-40 vote underscored deep opposition from Republicans who worry Haaland’s criticism of fossil fuels means she will discourage oil development across hundreds of millions of acres of federal land under the Interior Department’s control. President Joe Biden already ordered a pause in the sale of drilling rights across federal lands and waters.

“Based on her own public statements and actions, Congresswoman Haaland is more radical in her positions than President Biden,” said Senator Cynthia Lummis, a Republican from Wyoming, said before the vote. “As secretary, she will continue the job-killing, anti-energy attack on Wyoming’s livelihood that President Biden started during his first week in office.”

Senate Democrats said Haaland has a special relationship with the land that will aid her leadership of the Interior Department charged with managing so much of it. The agency oversees grazing, hunting, recreation, energy development and other activities on about a fifth of U.S. land, some 700 million subsurface acres of minerals and 2.5 billion acres of the outer continental shelf. The Interior Department also holds trust title to 56 million acres for tribal nations, and its Bureau of Indian Affairs serves as the prime U.S. government contact for 578 federally recognized tribes.

Oil production on federal lands in Haaland’s home state of New Mexico once paid for a free-college program and provides more than a third of the state’s budget.

“Congresswoman Haaland knows firsthand how the decisions that we make here in Washington, and particularly in the Interior Department, affect communities across the country, especially in tribal communities and rural Western states,” said Senator Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, said before the vote. “She is the leader that we need at Interior to take on the important work of restoring our landscapes, opening up new outdoor recreation opportunities for all Americans and putting our public lands to work in confronting the climate crisis.”

In the House, Haaland has advocated greater consultation with tribes, conservation of federal lands and federal-tribal collaboration to prevent violent crimes. She worked to block drilling near the sandstone mesas and ruins of northwest New Mexico’s Greater Chaco region. Haaland also has been an outspoken critic of fracking and was an original cosponsor of the Green New Deal resolution outlining a vision for rapidly decarbonizing the U.S. economy.

Haaland downplayed her prior views during the confirmation process, asserting that fossil fuels will play a major role in the U.S. for years to come and emphasizing that Biden’s policy views, not her own, will take precedence at the Interior Department.

But environmentalists are still counting on her to take a tough stance.

“The massive outpouring of public support for Haaland is a testament to her uncompromising record and her clear commitment to ending the exploitation of public lands by fossil fuel corporations,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the conservation group Food and Water Watch said in a news release Monday. “Biden’s unambiguous call to end fracking on public lands must now become a priority for the White House.”

To contact the reporter on this story:
Jennifer A. Dlouhy in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Jon Morgan at

Elizabeth Wasserman

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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