WASHINGTON (CN) — Congresswoman Deb Haaland, nominated by President Joe Biden to become the nation’s first Native American interior secretary, was grilled by Republicans during her confirmation hearing Tuesday over the administration’s opposition to oil and gas pipelines.
It will take members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee another day to get through their questions for Haaland, after wrapping up the first round early Tuesday afternoon.
The vice chairwoman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Haaland is a 35th generation New Mexican, member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and one of the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress.
If confirmed, she’d also become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.
A chief concern among Republicans on the Senate committee Tuesday was whether the Biden administration would continue to oppose the construction of oil and natural gas pipelines.
Senator Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, asked if Haaland agreed with the president’s executive order to revoke the permit granted for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, knowing thousands of jobs were eliminated because of the action.
Haaland replied that executive orders in general and the specific order to shred that permit was Biden’s decision, not the Department of Interior’s.
After citing a State Department report that pointed to a decrease in emissions if the Keystone XL pipeline was completed, Cassidy said he hoped “Democrats paid attention to the science,” and hoped the Interior Department would not be guided by “a prejudice against fossil fuel.”
“Senator, if I could just take the liberty of saying prejudice on fossil fuels perhaps isn’t the way that I would describe it. I would say that President Biden is moving toward the tremendous opportunities that we have in diversifying our energy resources,” Haaland said.
Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, noted Haaland’s protesting of the Dakota Access pipeline and its current safe operation, asking if she was still opposed to it.
“Senator, yes I did go to stand with the water protectors during that several years back,” Haaland said. “The reason I did that is because I agreed with the tribe that they felt they weren’t consulted in the best way. I know that tribal consultation is important and that is the reason I was there.”
In opening remarks before the committee Tuesday, Haaland described her father and mother as dedicated service members of the Marines and Navy, respectively, who taught her the value of hard work.
It was her grandparents who taught her tradition and respect for the environment, she said, while spending summers with them in the small village of Mesita, New Mexico, on the Laguna Pueblo reservation.
“It was there that I learned about our culture from my grandmother by watching her cook and by participating in traditional feast days and ceremonies,” Haaland said. “It was in the cornfields with my grandfather where I learned the importance of water and protecting our resources, and where I gained a deep respect for the Earth.”
She said she is no stranger to facing adversity, living most of her adult life paycheck to paycheck and at times relying on government assistance to purchase necessities.
Her heritage and openness about those hardships have made Haaland a champion among Native Americans, with many celebrating her confirmation hearing with virtual watch parties and celebrations.
“It’s because of these struggles that I fully understand the role Interior must play in the president’s plan to build back better; to responsibly manage our natural resources to protect them for future generations — so that we can continue to work, live, hunt, fish and pray among them,” Haaland testified.
Senator Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, took time to recognize the historic nature of Haaland’s nomination and said that based on conversations about issues facing native communities in her state, Haaland would be committed to working to tackle those challenges. The senator said Hawaii in particular should be an important focus of management for the Interior Department because it contains the most invasive species of any state.
Hirono asked Haaland to expand on job opportunities for families who are used to working in the fossil fuel industry when transitioning to clean energy. Haaland said Biden was ready to help create millions of jobs through investment in projects to help that national transition.
“I know that coming from a state such as New Mexico, where we have over 300 days of sun per year and absolutely an abundance of wind, that there’s many more places like that and we can move our clean energy forward,” Haaland said. “Part of the reason I feel very strongly about this coming from New Mexico as well is that if we have other streams of revenue that we can move forward to fund our schools, we don’t suffer the booms and the busts that we’ve experienced in New Mexico.”
Senators anticipated two rounds of questions on the same day but cut Tuesday’s hearing short after a little over two hours, citing ongoing votes on the Senate floor. The committee agreed to reconvene the hearing Wednesday to dive deeper into the issues.