Deb Haaland Is Set to Take Over the Most Powerful Job in the Outdoors

After two days of pointed questioning, the U.S. representative from New Mexico looks all but certain to become the next Secretary of the Interior, and the first Native cabinet member in history.

Photo: AFGE

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After two days of tough questioning about everything from national monuments to the outdoor recreation economy to drilling and mining, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) appears likely to be confirmed as the new Secretary of the Interior, which would make her the first Native cabinet member in the history of the United States.

In a news release on Wednesday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), widely considered the evenly-divided Senate’s most important swing vote, said he would support Haaland. He had previously said that he was undecided.

“I believe Deb Haaland will be a Secretary of the Interior for every American and will vote to confirm her,” Manchin said. “I look forward to working with her to protect our public lands and ensure the responsible use of all our natural resources in a bipartisan manner.”

From the beginning of the hearing, Haaland faced sharp questions about her stance on drilling and mining on public lands, including some from Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who indicated before the hearing that he was likely to oppose her nomination due to her prior support for the Green New Deal and opposition to both new oil and gas leasing and pipeline construction. Time and time again, Haaland demurred, telling the committee that the administration’s current pause on new oil and gas leasing is temporary and stating that she would work to advance President Biden’s agenda, not promote her own views. Daines also pressed Haaland for her stance on delisting grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem; she responded by telling Daines that she would rely on “the science and the data” to make the decision.

Mike Lee (R-UT), questioned Haaland about her position on Bears Ears National Monument, which the Trump administration shrank by nearly 85%. In 2019, Haaland said Trump had acted “illegally” in shrinking the monument, and cosponsored a measure that would have not only restored the monument, but expanded it to cover all 1.9 million acres that local tribes had identified as culturally or spiritually important. 

In his questioning, Lee raised the possibility of limiting future presidents’ ability to designate monuments in Utah without legislative approval and alluded to the potential “ping-pong effect” of subsequent presidents shrinking and expanding monuments. He asked if Haaland would come to Utah to meet with stakeholders prior to any action on the monument; Haaland, who emphasized the importance of the area to the Navajo and other tribal nations, responded that she would.

Several senators in the hearing asked Haaland about her stance on national parks and the outdoor recreation economy. In response to a question from Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Haaland said that the Biden administration supported the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, which would protect more than 400,000 acres of land around Colorado, including 73,000 acres of new wilderness. She also told Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that she would “absolutely” commit to spending the funding available through the Great American Outdoors Act on infrastructure improvements throughout the national parks and other public lands.

Haaland was more evasive when Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) asked whether she would support a permanent ban on uranium mining on federal lands around the Grand Canyon, instead saying that she would make health and safety, as well as the protection of sacred places, a top priority.

If confirmed, Haaland would head up the department responsible for administering most of the United States’ public lands, including the national parks and the Bureau of Land Management, as well as managing the Bureau of Indian Affairs. An enrolled citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, Haaland began her appearance by acknowledging that it was taking place on the homelands of the Nacotchtank, Anacostan, and Piscotaway people.