The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination Monday of Deb Haaland to become Interior secretary and the first Native American Cabinet secretary in history. Attention will now turn to what kind of history she makes on everything from the future of oil and gas development on federal lands to the status of the Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Grand Junction.
The Senate voted 51-40 to confirm the nomination of Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat who has been serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. She faced considerable opposition from Republicans.
U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, both Colorado Democrats, voted for her confirmation in preliminary votes, although neither could cast a final vote Monday because the weekend’s snowstorm delayed their flights back to Washington, D.C., from Colorado.
“Congresswoman Haaland loves public lands, and she’ll make sure that vulnerable communities are heard in Washington,” Hickenlooper said in a news release. “We will work together on growing our outdoor recreation economy, tackling climate change, and finding a path to maintaining a BLM headquarters out West.”
Colorado GOP spokesman Joe Jackson released a statement saying, “Let’s be clear, the vote to confirm Deb Haaland by Bennet and Hickenlooper was a vote against keeping the Bureau of Land Management HQ in Colorado, a vote against Colorado’s energy workers, and a vote against Colorado’s future.”
Republican senators have challenged Haaland over her past statements in opposition to oil and gas fracking and in support of keeping fossil fuels in the ground.
She has said that as Interior secretary she would be moving forward President Joe Biden’s agenda rather than her own, and representing all Americans rather than one congressional district.
The Biden administration has put a moratorium on federal oil and gas leasing to allow for a review of the leasing program.
Haaland also previously has criticized the Trump administration’s relocation of the BLM’s headquarters from Washington to Grand Junction. The agency moved 41 largely top-level jobs to the city, and many more from Washington to other locations in the West. Hickenlooper and Bennet support having what they call a fully functioning headquarters in Grand Junction but say the Trump administration didn’t follow through on its commitment to the city by moving only 41 jobs there.
Haaland said during her confirmation hearing that she would keep an open dialogue with western senators on the issue and accepted Hickenlooper’s invitation to visit the new headquarters if confirmed. She said it will be important to look at the headquarters issue while first considering the well-being of the career staff there.
After Haaland’s confirmation Monday, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, issued a letter to Haaland congratulating her on her confirmation and formally inviting her to visit Grand Junction and the BLM headquarters. Also signing the invitation were Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, and Mesa County’s three county commissioners, Scott McInnis, Janet Rowland and Cody Davis.
“There is strong bipartisan and bicameral support for keeping BLM’s headquarters and existing jobs out West. We encourage you to continue (to) work with us and other Westerners to ensure we get this right. Grand Junction should operate as a real headquarters and have all staff necessary to ensure that occurs,” the letter says.
Coloradan Nada Culver, a former attorney for environmental groups, recently was hired as a BLM deputy director of policy and programs, and the Interior Department said she effectively was being put temporarily in charge of the agency because no director is currently in place.
Culver previously has criticized the headquarters move to Grand Junction but also has said the Biden administration shouldn’t issue some immediate order moving headquarters jobs again.
Scott Braden of Grand Junction, director of the Colorado Wildlands Project, congratulated Haaland on her confirmation.
“As a New Mexican, she understands transitioning rural western economies and the critical need to balance conservation, climate resilience and economic needs of our public lands communities and indigenous peoples, making her exceptionally well-qualified for this position,” he said in a statement.
“In particular, we are hopeful that Secretary Haaland, working with Colorado’s own Nada Culver … will champion rebuilding an agency damaged and scattered during the previous administration. We hope they will restore the agency’s multiple use mission, bring conservation back as a priority and leverage our public lands to meet the urgent imperatives of meeting our national climate goals.”