Interior Department

Senate confirms Debra Haaland to lead Interior

The U.S. has previously had a Native American vice president, Charles Curtis, but has never had an indigenous Cabinet secretary

The Senate voted to confirm Deb Haaland to lead the Interior Department


The Senate on Monday voted to confirm Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) to lead the Interior Department, making her the nation’s first Native American Cabinet secretary. The Senate voted 51-40 to confirm Haaland. Nine members missed the vote. Haaland’s opposition to a controversial method of fossil fuel extraction called fracking, participation in a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline and support for the Green New Deal have made her a favorite among progressives, but drawn ire from some Republicans.

GOP Sens. Steve Daines (Mont.) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) had placed holds on her nomination, with Daines invoking Haaland's positions on pipelines and fossil fuels and Lummis invoking President Biden's pause on new leasing for oil and gas development on federal lands.

During her confirmation hearing, Daines specifically pressed Haaland on her stances on fracking and pipelines in general, and particularly Biden's decision to revoke a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as his leasing suspension.

Haaland’s supporters touted the historic nature of her confirmation and the importance of having a Native American at the helm of an agency with significant responsibility to the country’s 574 federally recognized tribes.

"Before America's public lands were America's public lands, they were Native American lands, and Deb Haaland will be the first Native American to serve in any president's cabinet and the first to serve as the secretary of this department, so that's kind of a wonderful harmony with history," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) in a speech ahead of the vote.

The U.S. has previously had a Native American vice president, Charles Curtis, who served from 1929 to 1933, but has never had an indigenous Cabinet secretary.

Haaland also sought to persuade critics that she would play a different role as Interior secretary, saying that energy from fossil fuels “does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come,” while stressing the need to find a “balance” between fossil fuels and fighting climate change.

She said that the president’s pause on leasing publicly owned lands and waters for oil and gas development would not be a “permanent thing.”

Facing questions about her stances on pipelines and fracking, Haaland said that she would be tasked with implementing President Biden’s agenda, not her own.

Biden has said that he will not ban fracking and does not support the Green New Deal.

Ahead of the vote, Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) said they would support Haaland’s nomination, while Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Dan Sullivan (Alaska) signaled possible support when they backed Haaland during a procedural vote last week.

Murkowski and Collins have noted that they don’t agree with her on every issue, but have brought up matters like her support for bipartisan conservation legislation and the historic significance of her confirmation.

Haaland is expected to play a key role in Biden’s efforts to have the United States reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and in conserving a total of 30 percent of the country’s lands and waters by 2030.

Haaland, asked during her confirmation hearing whether the so-called “30 by 30” effort would seek to conserve all lands or just those that are federally-owned, said the initiative would be “not just relegated to public lands.”

The Center for American Progress, a left-wing think tank, estimated in 2018 that the country had conserved 12 percent of its lands.

During her confirmation hearing, Haaland said her priorities will include promoting clean energy and clean energy jobs, increasing access to broadband internet in Native communities and dealing with missing and murdered indigenous women.

She also stressed opportunities for jobs related to taking care of abandoned mines and plugging orphaned gas wells, as well as Biden’s pledge to create a Civilian Climate Corps, which would create jobs conserving public lands and increasing reforestation.

“I believe there are millions of jobs in a clean energy future for Americans and if I’m confirmed I’d be honored to help the president move those forward,” she said at the time.

Haaland was first elected to Congress in 2018 and was one of the two first Native American congresswomen. Representing New Mexico’s 1st district, she also served as vice chair of the Natural Resources Committee and chaired its subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands.

"As former vice chair of the House Natural Resources committee, Deb Haaland also brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her role as Interior Secretary," said Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) in a floor speech on Monday. "But of all of the qualifications and accomplishments that Deb Haaland will bring to the department of Interior, there's one that stands out to those who know her best: her empathy."

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