OPINION: President-elect Joe Biden’s nomination of Deb Haaland to lead the US Department of the Interior was a bold gesture that will inevitably put the New Mexico congresswoman in the hottest of seats once Senate hearings to confirm Biden’s Cabinet selections begin.
If confirmed, Haaland will be the first Native American named to a Cabinet post and the first to lead the 170-year-old department, which oversees oil and gas activity on federal lands and in its waters.
She comes from the Democratic Party’s progressive wing and has voiced support for the Green New Deal, which takes aim at the fossil fuel industry, but she also knows that many of her constituents in New Mexico rely on the jobs and state revenues that the oil and gas business provides.
Industry reaction to Haaland’s nomination — announced in December — has so far been mostly muted, but the Republican Party of New Mexico wasted no time in putting out a statement saying Haaland would “destroy New Mexico’s vital energy industry” and “eagerly follow Biden’s leftist agenda” of restricting hydraulic fracturing and freezing new leases on federal lands.
At the other end of the spectrum, she has the support of environmentalists and many Native Americans, who see in her as corrective to the outgoing administration’s regulatory rollbacks and a champion of environmental justice.
Interior’s vast umbrella — it includes the National Park Service, the Fish & Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, among others — means its secretary must manage a range of demands and expectations to be effective.
Haaland, 60, has shown an ability to work across the aisle in her short political career — she was only elected to the House of Representatives in 2018 — and may find such skills useful in her new role.
The Senate confirmation hearings could provide a glimpse into how she would carry out the Interior’s mission, while helping the new administration advance its ambitious climate goals.
Tough questions are justified but a rush to judgment serves no one well. Haaland, a history-making choice, deserves a fair hearing.
(This is an Upstream opinion article.)