While many Montanans support the nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland for Interior Secretary, her opponents focus mainly on her stance on oil and gas.
On Tuesday, Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., appeared before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee in the first round of questioning as part of the confirmation process to join the Biden cabinet.
If confirmed, she will be the first Native American to hold the position of Interior Secretary, something that should have happened long before this, said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. during his introduction.
Last week, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council said basically the same thing in its endorsement of Haaland. In letters to Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, the Rocky Mountain Leaders Council, along with tribal nations and organizations across the nation, requested they support Haaland’s nomination.
“For too long, the Department of the Interior has classified tribal consultation as a ‘dear tribal leader’ letter. For even longer, the original stewards of this land have been ignored and our voices silenced. It is way over due that an Indigenous person held the position of Secretary of the Interior,” the letter said.
Heinrich said it is not only appropriate to have Haaland leading the agency that oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but also, during her time in the U.S. House, she has proven herself to be a leader who is willing to work with anyone.
“As a committee leader she demonstrated her commitment to working across party lines. Of all the members newly elected in 2018, she introduce the most bills with bipartisan cosponsors,” Heinrich said.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, backed that up, giving an enthusiastic endorsement of his Democratic colleague. Young said he is the oldest member of Congress and has known a lot of politicians, but Haaland proved to him that she was willing to listen to all. He said he was also proud that she, a Native American, would hold the office.
“I have a lot at stake here. I’m an oil state, too. But maybe if we have people in the Department of the Interior such as Deb, maybe there’ll be a balance,” Young said. “Understand, there’s a broad picture here. Her job is to understand it, no longer a little cartoon. This is the big picture. She’ll have to have the responsibility to do the job I know she can do.”
But some committee members opposed Haaland because of recent Biden administration actions, such as putting a temporary ban on new oil and gas leases on public land and stopping the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which crosses a mix of private and public land. The Secretary of the Interior is not involved in authorizing the Keystone pipeline.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Wyoming is No. 1 in the production of natural gas, coal, uranium and bentonite. He said banning oil and gas leases would cause workers to lose jobs.
That’s not exactly accurate. Over the past four years, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management held record-breaking lease auctions with the result being that of the 26 million acres of public land now leased, almost half are undeveloped. If oil and gas companies would develop what they’ve already leased, no jobs would be lost. Plus, wells on federal land account for only 20% of the nation’s oil production; the majority is on private land.
Sen. Steve Daines made the same argument against banning leases, and Haaland clarified that the Biden executive order was just a temporary pause for now.
Daines went on to say 60 people around Baker, Mont., lost jobs when another Biden executive order shut down construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, something Haaland supported in the past. Quoting Haaland saying “Anyone who says we have to sacrifice jobs for clean energy is just trying to scare us,” Daines asked what she’d say to workers.
Haaland, a business owner, said she has been without a job before, so she could relate to those without jobs.
“I will do everything I can. I mean it. I will work my heart out for every American,” Haaland said. “If we can move President Biden’s agenda forward together, we can create those millions of jobs.”
Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline hasn’t yet begun in Montana. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality didn’t approve a mandatory Water Quality Certification until Dec. 31. The Northern Plains Resource Council immediately challenged the certificate in court on Jan. 4. The Fort Belknap community and Rosebud Sioux protested the approval, since the pipeline would tunnel beneath their land.
Two weeks later, the Biden administration revoked the March 2019 Trump administration certificate approving pipeline construction. So construction never had time to get going.
Daines went on to question whether Haaland would base her decisions on science. Daines said cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline would increase, not decrease, carbon emissions, because it would have been a zero-emission project by 2030.
That might have been partly true. In mid-January, in a bid to save the project, Canada’s TC Energy Corporation promised it would commit to spending $1.7 billion on solar, wind and battery power to operate the partially completed 2,000-mile pipeline system between Alberta, in western Canada, and Texas. TC Energy would try to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from the pipeline operation by 2030.
But Daines’ assertion ignores what the pipeline carries. The Keystone XL would transport 830,000 barrels a day of Alberta tar sands oil, which generates 15% to 17% more carbon emissions than conventional oil. So some consider labeling the pipeline as zero-emissions to be disingenuous.
Haaland said she and Daines could discuss the emissions data if she is confirmed. But that wouldn’t be part of her job.
Later, Daines tweeted, “Rep. Haaland said she will blindly follow @JoeBiden’s radical, anti-American energy agenda. She refused to answer whether or not she stands by her hostile record and divisive rhetoric on energy.”
Some Montanans took offense to Daines’ line of questioning. Whitney Tawney, the Executive Director of Montana Conservation Voters, labeled it “mansplaining.”
“Senator Daines whiffed it again,” Tawney said in a statement. “Instead of using his precious time to educate himself about the importance of striking the balance between creating jobs and managing public lands and resources, he instead used the opportunity to gaslight Montanans by cherry-picking Rep. Haaland’s record in Congress.”
The Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council letter said it was “absurd to try and separate the Tar Sands from the Keystone-XL Pipeline,” and said a tar sands spill in the Ogallala Aquifer would potentially affect eight U.S. states, including New Mexico, Haaland’s home.
“Rep. Haaland was aware of these facts. She was honest about the situation. And she knew the figures on supposed job creation were vastly exaggerated. This is the leadership that American people need when decisions on extractive industry projects are being made,” the letter said.
The Senate committee will return for more questioning on Wednesday. Haaland will ultimately have to be confirmed by the full Senate.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at email@example.com.