Skift Take

It's no easy task facing members of Congress who are pro-fossil fuels when you're a climate change and outdoors advocate. Deb Haaland skillfully deflected contentious questions by promising to listen, collaborate, and serve both aisles of Congress, while staying firm on clean energy and conservation.

Congresswoman and Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland kept her composure on Tuesday and reiterated her stance in ensuring bipartisan collaboration and finding a balance between energy production, a future of clean energy, and science-based conservation decisions.

Maybe not the answers green travel advocates were fully looking for, but Haaland’s political skills were on full display on day one of her nominating hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

A second round of questions will take place Wednesday and determine whether she will become the United States’ first Native American Secretary of the Interior. The U.S. outdoor recreation and conservation groups will have to wait longer for a final vote on one of the most important and promising Biden administration picks for the future of the country’s Native Americans, climate action, and outdoor tourism.

“It’s not about me — rather, I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans, moving together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us,” Haaland said in her nomination speech, stressing at the outset her penchant for collaboration, conversation and listening to all members of Congress. But she also recognized that fossil fuel energy will continue to play a major role in America for years to come.

Her nomination had excited many in the tourism sector, largely because of her strong conservationist views.

Haaland’s showed off her bipartisan communication skills as she continued to remind Republican senators, some of whom had previously voiced disapproval in her nomination given her anti-oil and gas development stance, that she would listen to their concerns and those of their constituents if selected.

“I know how important oil and gas revenue are to critical services, but we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating and our climate challenge must be addressed,” Haaland said. “I am committed to working cooperatively with all stakeholders and all of Congress strike the right balance going forward.”

As expected, the committee’s Republican members stressed the importance of leading the Department of Interior and its broad responsibilities, particularly its role in overseeing the management of energy production through fossil fuels and the billions of dollars the energy industry generates.

In rapid fired yes or no questions, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso asked for Haaland’s position on whether the federal government should permit oil and gas wells, coal mines, and copper, lithium and other hard rock mines, while adding that no other country was banning oil production due to climate change, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and China.

“Coal mines were not a part of President Biden’s  executive order,” Haaland said. “If we do these things in a responsible manner and protect the health and safety of workers, I see us moving forward. The Earth is here to provide for us and that’s what I believe,” Haaland said, deflecting direct questions intended to have her reiterate any anti-fossil fuel stance as potential future secretary of interior. As for gas or oil pipelines, Haaland answered that she would follow the law on all of these matters.

Repeated questions followed from Montana Senator Steve Daines, among other Republican committee members, who targeted Haaland’s past opposition to oil and gas development, fracking and pipelines, which she fielded artfully by noting that she would be serving President Biden and it would be his agenda, while adding when pressed that she does relate to being unemployed in the past and that she would exert every effort to find solutions for every American.

Amid the contentious Republican voices defending oil and gas interests, supportive statements came from members who have known Haaland’s record-breaking bipartisan bill negotiation since joining Congress.

Senator Wyden of Oregon described Haaland as “a leader in pulling people together” to come up with bipartisan solutions” and recognizing the economic multiplier effect and promise of rural jobs that will come out of Haaland’s effort in reestablishing the Civilian Conservation Corps.

“I think we can do it all. I think we can work together, I think we can protect our public lands, I think we can create jobs,” Haaland said, noting that having different views and thinking differently was not a bad thing, and reminding the committee that she was the highest rated freshman for bipartisanship in the116th Congress.

Haaland’s achievements in outdoor conservation legislation creating access for recreation as well as billions in restoration funds came into focus as an example of her ability to unite the two sides of the aisle.

Senator Don Young, who also introduced Haaland, noted that he came to know Haaland during her time as chair of the land committee, vouching for her listening and bipartisan negotiation skills. “As a member of this administration she will do a good job; she will work for us and she’ll reach out across the aisle,” Senator Young said. “I have a lot at stake here, I am an oil producing state too, we lost a lot of jobs not because of Deb, we lost them because of the President signing an executive order[.]”

Senator Maria Cantwell, after noting that she felt Haaland’s nomination had become a proxy fight against the future of fossil fuels, pointed to the Great American Outdoors Act, which Haaland helped pass with bipartisan support, and asked if science and technology would be the basis for Haaland’s approach to protecting areas such as the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and in handling the wildfires of the Pacific Northwest. S

The presidential influence over national monument designations came into focus as well. “In Utah, national monuments have become a political football,” Senator Lee said, referencing the “bounce back” of Grand Staircase-Escalante between the last two administrations. “I’m a little jealous that you’re from Utah because you have so much beautiful land there and lot of history, I realize it takes wide space,” Haaland said tactfully, to which Senator Lee said that wide designations “makes the communities impoverished,” and that was his concern.

Among Haaland’s aspirations which she repeated during the hearing include supporting President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan and creating clean energy jobs for youth through the Civilian Climate Corps.


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Tags: outdoors, tourism

Photo credit: Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland on Tuesday appearing before Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Skift/C-SPAN

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