By GREG WALCHERBy GREG WALCHER
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held confirmation hearings this week on President Joe Biden’s Interior Secretary nominee, Rep. Deb Haaland. The committee had already approved the nomination of Jennifer Granholm to be Secretary of Energy, and the Environment and Public Works Committee already approved the EPA Administrator nominee, Michael Regan. Those hearings were civil, and the votes bipartisan. Rep. Haaland was not so lucky. Her hearings were contentious and sometimes angry.
Haaland (a member of the Laguna Pueblo) was elected to Congress from New Mexico in 2018, one of the first two Native Americans ever elected to Congress. She will become the first to serve in the Cabinet, making history by heading the department responsible not only for America’s public lands, but also for its relationship with native tribes, including administering their treaties and trust funds. It is a milestone long overdue, and her nomination might be universally applauded, but for the fact that her views on environmental issues seem so out of step with many tribes, and with the western states from which Interior Secretaries are traditionally chosen.
Haaland is a lawyer and political activist who, before her one term in Congress, worked as a local administrator and as a field organizer for Obama campaigns. She is said to be part of the “keep it in the ground” movement, seeking to stop America’s use of oil and gas, and she has advocated banning fracking, which would eliminate much of today’s energy production. In her congressional campaign, she vowed to vote against fossil fuel infrastructure in general, so she was grilled sternly by western senators at the committee hearing. The Interior Department’s mission includes managing public land mineral and energy resources, and leasing some of those resources for production. Haaland calmed the committee with a more conciliatory tone, though, assuring members “there’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come.” She said Interior should continue to issue permits “as a general matter,” and acknowledged that Interior relies partly on funding from energy production royalties. “But,” she warned, “We must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed.”
Several western senators were not very reassured, but she will nevertheless be confirmed by the Senate, now under the control of the same party as the President. Strangely, a staffer at the Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group which supports her nomination, says “She understands at a very real level, at a generational level, in her case going back 30 generations, what it is to care for American lands.” So, you don’t care for American lands if you have lived there only five generations? Do you have to live somewhere for six, 10, 20 — what is the cut-off point? Not to sound like a journalistic fact-checker, but everyone has ancestry that goes back, not just 30 generations, but hundreds. I can trace my lineage to the middle ages, as could Haaland, and we both undoubtedly share some ancestors. We are kin, and we all care about public lands.
Some westerners will also be concerned about Regan’s policies at EPA. He worked there under President Clinton, then for a large national environmental group, and more recently headed the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. He says his charge is to restore the reputation, morale, and science-based decisions of EPA, which he thinks President Trump undermined and tainted.
Others worry about Granholm at Energy. She has recently been an adjunct professor at Berkley, but as governor of Michigan, she supported the Obama-era federal bailout of that state’s auto industry, in exchange for the industry’s commitment to massive investments in electric (coal-powered?) cars.
Still others are nervous about what will come from the White House itself, with jet-setting John Kerry as “Special Presidential Envoy for Climate,” and Gina McCarthy serving as “National Climate Advisor.” McCarthy was the Obama-era EPA administrator who promulgated the coal-killing “clean power plan,” which was blocked by the Supreme Court as an assertion of authority EPA does not have.
I share some of those concerns, and mostly we know what is coming, because we have seen this movie before. There is a new sheriff in town, and he has brought his posse along. I hope they’ll turn down the rhetoric and acknowledge that, while reasonable people may differ on policy approaches, we all care about the environment. That would at least get them off on the right foot.
Greg Walcher is president of the Natural Resources Group and author of “Smoking Them Out: The Theft of the Environment and How to Take it Back.” He is a Western Slope native.