Montana’s two U.S. Senators split their vote Monday on the confirmation of Rep. Deb Haaland to serve as the new secretary of the Department of the Interior, making her the first Native American cabinet secretary in the nation’s history.
Sen. Jon Tester voted in favor of Haaland’s nomination, calling her a champion of public lands and access – one who is committed to building the outdoor economy and ensuring the federal government meets its treaty responsibilities with tribal nations.
“The folks who work in the extractive resource industries are essential to Montana’s economy, and I will continue to defend these jobs from burdensome regulations,” Tester said. “But while we don’t agree on everything, Secretary Haaland has shown herself to be well qualified to lead the Interior Department, and I look forward to working with her to safeguard our public lands and bolster our economy.”
Daines opposed Haaland’s nomination, largely on issues related to energy and resource extraction. In a statement released after Monday’s vote, Daines suggested Haaland had a “hostile record” on such issues.
“She has enthusiastically called for a ban on all new pipelines and is a leading cosponsor of the Green New Deal,” said Daines. “I have serious concerns about how Rep. Haaland will use this position in ways that negatively impact the Montana way of life.”
Critics of former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt leveled similar arguments against him during his tenure, saying he helped oversee the unprecedented expansion of oil and gas development on public lands, acted to undermine the Endangered Species Act, and strayed from science when making critical land-use decisions.
Haaland’s confirmation drew criticism from rural elected officials but praise from others, along with environmental and outdoor organizations. Haaland marked a welcome shift from the Bernhardt era, they said.
Her tenure comes as the nation moves to address climate change, preserve undeveloped areas and move toward a new energy future.
“Hunters and anglers have witnessed unprecedented attacks on Montana conservation values, which comes at the expense of fish and wildlife,“ said Alec Underwood with the Montana Wildlife Federation. “Haaland will be a key leader in restoring needed protections for fish and wildlife, and prioritizing our public lands for their existing conservation and recreation values, as well as our vibrant outdoor recreation economy.”
Haaland’s confirmation also drew praise from Native Americans and national organizations, including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Haaland will be charged with managing 480 million federal acres, or nearly one fifth of the land area in the continental U.S.
“The hunting and fishing community has met with Secretary Haaland many times, and in our interactions, she has committed to strengthening habitat and improving recreational access,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the conservation partnership. “There are many pressing issues coming before the Interior Department, and sportsmen and sportswomen stand ready to partner with the secretary to advance conservation and support the outdoor recreation economy.”
During their meeting in January, Tester said he quizzed Haaland on her position over public lands and her commitment to role back Bernhardt’s efforts “to cripple the implementation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”
Tester said he was reassured by the answers Haaland provided, though Daines said otherwise. Like Tester, he too said he would hold Haaland accountable on certain issues.
“In Montana, we have a rich history of balanced wildlife and land management that allows us to enjoy recreation and promote energy development while still prioritizing conservation,” Daines said. “Haaland has pledged to learn from states like Montana that are able to balance these priorities, and I will hold her to this commitment and look for opportunities where we can pragmatically work together on behalf of Montana.”