As Secretary of the Interior, U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland would restore balance to the vital and sprawling federal department and forward-thinking management of public lands.
Her confirmation would reverse the erosion of transparency and integrity under Secretary David Bernhardt, and Ryan Zinke before him. It would achieve an important milestone: Haaland would be the first Native American to oversee the department, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She is a 35th-generation resident of the region that includes her home state, New Mexico, and is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna.
Though Haaland’s detractors call her radical, her congressional record is one of bipartisan cooperation. Her willingness to listen and search for consensus was evident in her measured responses to pointed questions and thinly disguised skepticism from some members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in confirmation hearings last week.
Interior is massive and complex, with 70,000 employees and a $21 billion budget. Its bureaus bridge the tricky intersections of conservation, recreation and commercial use of some of the country’s most precious natural resources. Its reach encompasses nearly a fifth of the U.S. land area, including about 28% of Washington. It manages more than 500 national parks and national monuments, and hundreds of wildlife refuges. It is responsible for nearly 500 dams and more than 300 reservoirs, including the Columbia Basin water system, and for protecting threatened and endangered species, running the Geological Survey and reclaiming thousands of abandoned mines.
Haaland’s critics have, for the most part, zeroed in on a small but critical aspect of Interior’s responsibility: Leases for oil, gas and coal production. National lands produce nearly 20% of the nation’s energy, including 43% of its coal.
Here, too, Haaland consistently committed to talking through issues and consulting with scientists and other experts in advancing President Joe Biden’s agenda, which is a sharp departure from the previous president’s. That isn’t going to change, no matter how vociferously fossil-fuel supporters fight.
Rather than kick and buck against Haaland’s nomination, senators should embrace the opportunity to be part of a steady transition to cleaner energy and nuanced, responsible management of the people’s resources and public lands.