This is the second part of our two-part interview with House Natural Resources Committee chairman, Rep. Raúl Grijalva. Click here to read part one.
ODP: Can you tell us a bit more about the hearings you’re planning on holding at the Natural Resources Committee this year? What are your goals with the hearings?
RG: With our New Mexico field hearing, we launched what will be a series of subcommittee hearings focused on the impacts of oil and gas development. These hearings, and the testimony we receive from voices that are often missing in these discussions, will aid us in crafting legislation that addresses the harmful impacts of oil and gas development. For far too long, public policy has treated oil and gas company profit margins as more important than public health and the environment. Our goal is to restore some balance. Fossil fuel companies have gotten sweetheart deals on public lands because their Republican allies in Congress have blocked efforts to update our energy laws.
Things are stacked heavily in favor of industry. This is not popular with the American people. The field hearings and roundtables we’ve held have dramatically demonstrated just how unpopular these giveaways and lack of care for the public really are. This Committee is responsible for overseeing the policies that are making their lives worse. Not listening to them isn’t an option for me.
ODP: Has hearing from your constituents and what protected public lands in the West mean to their heritage shaped your response to the Trump administration’s efforts to chip away at their protections?
RG: They are sacred places with profound historical, religious, and cultural significance to tribes throughout the southwest. The Trump administration decided to slash their boundaries apparently at the request of fossil fuel companies. This president and his political supporters want oil, gas, and coal companies to have more power than Native American communities or the public at large. I don’t support that level of special treatment, especially at other people’s expense.
When you listen to the way indigenous peoples describe these sacred spaces, as I have in my home state of Arizona and elsewhere, you realize just how important these landscapes are. They are where ancestors have been laid to rest, where ceremonies and pilgrimages take place, where the history of their culture is housed. Tribes in the United States date back thousands of years. We can’t let these sacred spaces be lost forever. They must remain protected.
ODP: In your view, how has the politics around climate and conservation changed throughout your career?
RG: Environmental policy is a little different from the years when I first became involved. We always knew we needed to do more to protect the planet we live on, but today climate change is getting out of control. Drought, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, glaciers melting – it feels like every day there’s a new breaking story about destruction and things getting worse. I know that it can sometimes be overwhelming.
ODP: On a more personal note, what compelled you to join the Natural Resources Committee in the first place and eventually become Chairman?
RG: I’ve always considered myself an environmentalist. Before running for Congress, I was a conservation leader on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, where I successfully championed the landmark Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan to protect the fragile Sonoran Desert ecosystem from overdevelopment.
When I joined the House of Representatives I knew that I wanted to continue being an outspoken voice for endangered species, wilderness, national parks, public lands – and for stronger standards for the fossil fuel industry. The Natural Resources Committee is the best place to work for these protections. I’ve been proud of the work we’ve done to protect our environment, both by proactively pushing good policy in the majority and by stopping the worst from happening in the minority.