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Deb Haaland Confirmed as First-Ever Native Secretary of the Interior

Will take up position after being approved in 51-40 vote.

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Deb Haaland has officially been confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native person in U.S. history to hold a cabinet-level post. The Senate voted 51-40 to approve Haaland’s nomination on March 15.

Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, is a marked departure from her predecessors David Bernhardt, a career lawyer and lobbyist for the energy industry who moved to weaken endangered species protections and pollution safeguards, and Ryan Zinke, a former Navy SEAL who presided over one of the largest public lands rollbacks in U.S. history when he recommended that then-President Trump shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in what department emails suggest was partly a concession to the oil and mining interests. The second-term U.S. representative has voiced her opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline, supports returning Bears Ears to its original size, and has been an outspoken proponent of clean energy. She enjoyed the support of the Outdoor Industry Association and a broad coalition of tribal leaders and Native advocacy groups from across the U.S. During an occasionally-contentious hearing in front of the Senate Natural Resources Committee last month, senators including Steve Daines (R-MT), Mike Lee (R-UT) and John Barrasso (R-WY) grilled her on her stances on everything from national monuments to the Endangered Species Act. Daines and Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) went on to make an unsuccessful attempt to block Haaland’s confirmation.

Speaking before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Haaland, who was one of the first two Native women elected to congress, was poised to make history again.

“Rep. Haaland’s confirmation represents a gigantic step forward in creating a government that represents the full richness and diversity of this country, because Native Americans were for far too long neglected at the cabinet level and in so many other places,” Schumer said. “Rep. Haaland will have an important task ahead of her: She must refocus the Interior Department on preserving and protecting almost 500 million acres of public lands, combating climate change and environmental degradation, and upholding the federal government’s obligation to tribal nations.”

As Secretary of the Interior, Haaland inherits a national park system still suffering from a nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog. (The Great American Outdoors Act, which earmarks $1.3 billion per year for five years to chip away at it, will likely help but not resolve the problem). Along with President Biden, she will also face the problem of what to do about Bears Ears and Grand Staircase. While Biden could theoretically restore both to their original boundaries with the stroke of a pen, that could leave them vulnerable to being shrunk again by a future administration in what some legal commentators have called a “yo-yo effect,” and faces stiff resistance from Utah’s congressional delegation.

On Twitter, Deb Haaland thanked the Senate for confirming her, and said she was looking forward to collaborating with them.

“I’m ready to serve,” she said.

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