WASHINGTON, AP – The first Native American nominated to lead a US federal agency, Deb Haaland, says she is committed to striking the right balance between energy development and protecting public land, as head of the Interior Department.
Haaland, 60, a New Mexico congresswoman, says oil and natural gas will continue to play a major role in America for years to come, even as the Biden administration seeks to address climate change.
Biden’s agenda, including the possible creation of a Civilian Climate Corps, “demonstrates that America’s public lands can and should be engines for clean energy production” and “has the potential to spur job creation,” Haaland said in testimony prepared for her confirmation hearing onTuesday.
The Laguna Pueblo member and two-term congresswoman often draws on the teachings of her ancestors as a reminder that action the US takes on climate change, the environment and sacred sites will affect generations to come.
Native Americans see Haaland’s nomination as the best chance to move from consultation on tribal issues to consent and to put more land into the hands of tribal nations either outright or through stewardship agreements. The Interior Department has broad oversight of tribal affairs and energy development.
“The historic nature of my confirmation is not lost on me, but I will say that it is not about me,” Haaland said in her prepared testimony. “Rather, I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans – moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us.”
She said she fully understands the role the Interior Department must play in Biden’s “build back better” plan for infrastructure and clean energy and said she will seek to protect natural resources for future generations “so that we can continue to work, live, hunt, fish, and pray among them.”
Haaland’s remarks are intended to rebut criticism from some Republicans who have complained that her opposition to drilling on federal lands will cost thousands of jobs and harm economies throughout the West.
Republican senator Steve Daines, said Haaland will have to convince him she’s willing to break from what he called her “radical views” as a lawmaker, including opposition to the oil industry and to the lifting of federal protections for grizzly bears.
He is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will consider Haaland’s nomination at a hearing Tuesday.
Meanwhile a letter signed by nearly 500 national and regional organisations representing Native Americans, environmental justice groups and outdoor businesses called Haaland “a proven leader and the right person to lead the charge against the existential threats of our time: tackling the climate, biodiversity, extinction and COVID-19 crises and racial justice inequities on our federal public lands and waters.”