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Yesterday, Congresswoman Deb Haaland, President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, faced a grueling Senate confirmation hearing. As secretary, Haaland would be the first Indigenous person to hold a cabinet position, yet even before she had a chance to answer senators’ questions, a handful of Republican members expressed concern over her “radical” views and indicated they wouldn’t vote to confirm her.
These same Senators (namely, Steve Daines (MT) and John Barrasso (WY)) used their time to grill Haaland on her personal stances on climate change and drilling on federal lands, even falsely stating that President’s Biden’s executive order would ban “all new oil, coal, gas leases on federal lands.”
Daines stated after Haaland’s hearing that “I’m just concerned about proceeding with this nomination.” Adding that, “The track record, the ideology in the past, I think, will perpetuate more divisiveness and will certainly harm Montana’s economy.”
Why This Matters: The questions and push back Deb Haaland received at her hearing was a proxy war between oil state legislators and the Biden administration as it works to curb climate change and embrace clean energy. In order for a just transition for fossil fuel workers to occur in this country, Democrats will have to come up with answers for how fossil fuel communities replace tax revenue, attract new jobs, and meet their needs throughout the shift away from fossil fuels. There’s no easy answer, but they need a tangible message.
Regardless, if Haaland is confirmed, she’ll continue to be unfairly vilified by lawmakers looking to keep oil and gas flowing in the U.S., despite her saying that these energy sources “will continue to play a major role in America for years to come.” She’ll find herself in the center of one of the Biden administration’s messiest fights, yet she’ll also have the opportunity to demonstrate the increased resiliency of clean energy jobs as well as the economic and intrinsic value of conserving public lands through programs like the Civilian Climate Corps and beyond.
Representation Matters: As Haaland said in her opening remarks at her hearing:
“This historic nature of my confirmation is not lost on me, but I will say it’s not about me. Rather, I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us.”
For too long, Native American communities have been disenfranchised and mistreated at the hands of the federal government. Haaland’s confirmation would mean that she would oversee federal policies for the 574 legally recognized native tribes including three offices for tribal affairs with Interior: the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau for Trust Funds Administration. There’s much work to be done to right past injustices and begin to make Indigenous communities valued stakeholders in the fight against climate change as well as the clean energy transition, but the process can gain a meaningful start with Deb Haaland leading the charge.
Additionally, encouraging better cooperation with tribal governments and enfranchising Native American voters are critically important outcomes that can resultfrom Haaland’s appointment to lead the Interior department.
All this makes the hostility Rep. Haaland faced during her hearing all the more unsettling. As Montana state Sen. Shane Morigeau, a member of the Salish and Kootenai tribes, stated in a recent interview:
“Being a minority person and being a person of color, it makes you wonder if she would get this treatment if she wasn’t a person of color, if she wasn’t Indian and if she wasn’t a woman.”
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