By Kenny Stancil
As Rep. Deb Haaland’s first confirmation hearing kicked off Tuesday, progressives reiterated their support for President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Interior Department, and urged Republican senators as well as Sen. Joe Manchin—a conservative Democrat and chairman of the Senate Energy Committee—to drop their objections to the congresswoman’s appointment.
If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland (D-N.M.)—a Green New Deal-backer and member of the Laguna Pueblo in New México—would be the first-ever Native American to lead the department tasked with protecting some 500 million acres of federal lands and overseeing the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
While progressives have cited Haaland’s opposition to fracking and other destructive fossil fuel projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline as evidence for why she is a highly qualified candidate for secretary of the interior, the GOP’s antagonism toward Biden’s nominee is based on Haaland’s support for reversing the oil and gas industry’s harmful legacy of extraction and pollution on land belonging to the U.S. public and tribal nations.
The conservatives crying about Deb Haaland as too extreme had no issue whatsoever when Trump’s Interior secretary was an actual oil and gas lobbyist,” said Public Citizen on twitter. “We must, for once, put tribes and local communities first –not oil & gas CEOs. Haaland must be confirmed as Interior secretary.”
Although the attempt by Republican senators John Barrasso (Wyo.), Steve Daines (Mont.), and others to “torpedo Haaland’s nomination” is unsurprising given their deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Monday night criticized Manchin (D-W.Va.) for his ambivalence after his spokesperson told NBC News correspondent Leigh Ann Caldwell that he was “undecided.”
“The opposition to her confirmation from some senators is nothing new. Republican senators have experienced various stages of denial and avoidance to delay and undermine an adequate national and federal response to addressing the consequential issue of climate change. Representative Haaland is going to do something about it, and they know it.”
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, Chair, House Committee on Natural Resources
In a tweet, Ocasio-Cortez drew attention to Manchin’s record regarding previous cabinet-level appointees. She focused on the vote he cast to confirm Jeff Sessions as then-President Donald Trump’s first attorney general even though the former Republican senator from Alabama, who oversaw the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, was “so openly racist that even Reagan couldn’t appoint him.”
“Manchin voted to confirm him. Sessions then targeted immigrant children for wide-scale human rights abuses with family separation,” Ocasio-Cortez continued, “yet the first Native woman to be Cabinet secretary is where Manchin finds unease?”
Given the significance of Manchin’s potentially decisive vote in the evenly split upper chamber, other progressive advocates, including Evan Weber—political director of the Sunrise Movement, a leading climate justice organization—weighed in on Manchin’s record of voting for far less qualified cabinet and Supreme Court picks without hesitation and urged the Senate Energy Committee chairman to back the well-qualified Haaland.
“We understand it is a sound practice to question pending nominees, but Senator Manchin had no problem voting for Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Brett Kavanaugh, and others who have been outwardly racist, sexist, unqualified, and have invoked harmful policies,” Weber said in a statement. “So why would he be undecided on Rep. Haaland, who is not only uniquely qualified for this role, but would make history as the first Native American cabinet secretary?”
“There is a clear groundswell of support behind Congresswoman Haaland,” Weber continued, “and her confirmation would help realize sovereignty to native people while invoking the change we need to meet the urgency and scale of the climate crisis. We challenge Senator Manchin to be brave, stand up to the fossil fuel industry, and do what’s right by moving Rep. Haaland’s nomination to the Senate floor for a vote.”
Meanwhile, the GOP’s hostility toward Haaland was on full display during Tuesday’s contentious hearing, led by Republican senators with connections to the oil and gas industry.
In a statement released Tuesday, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, noted that “the opposition to her confirmation from some senators is nothing new. Republican senators have experienced various stages of denial and avoidance to delay and undermine an adequate national and federal response to addressing the consequential issue of climate change.”
“Representative Haaland,” Grijalva added, “is going to do something about it, and they know it.”
When questioned on the policy Tuesday, Haaland stressed that the Biden administration’s moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters is temporary. Haaland explained that while she favors developing renewable energy sources, she understands that the transition away from fossil fuels will not “happen overnight.”
Grijalva predicted that “as senators listen to and have the opportunity to hear from Haaland directly, they will understand she brings with her the capacity and ability to do this job well, no question. The department’s leadership over the last four years has suffered greatly. Our public lands are a shared asset, and it’s time we start acting like that.”
According to Grijalva, “the opposition to Congresswoman Haaland’s confirmation is narrow and guided by money, not the qualifications or historic importance of what the nomination of Deb Haaland will do for this country.”
Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) concurred, saying that “these attacks, waged against her by some of the closest allies to Big Oil, are nothing more than an attempt to protect their special interests’ bottom line in Congress. These senators know that she will finally stand up to Big Oil, and this terrifies them.”
Most of the GOP’s talking points focused on Haaland’s alleged threat to fossil fuel workers—ignoring her advocacy of using clean energy production and a civilian climate corps to create green jobs—but Corley Kenna of the outdoor recreation company Patagonia pointed out that “more people in Wyoming are employed by the outdoor recreation industry than the oil and gas sector.”
“So, when Senator Barrasso, [who] receives more money from the oil and gas industry than any other sector… says he is opposed to Rep. Haaland’s nomination based on job loss, it rings pretty hollow.”
Kenna continued: “The extractive industries have also been exceptionally effective in confusing communities about the science and realities of what happens when we take from nature. They distort the truth around the often-deadly footprint that their businesses leave behind and the jobs that they create. We need to set the record straight on jobs: The outdoor industry supports 6.1 million jobs—compared with 2.1 million jobs supported by the oil and gas industry.”
Calling her “a visionary leader who knows we must protect places sacred to the American people like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, said in a statement released on February 23rd that as secretary of the interior, Haaland “will bring her experience and knowledge to make a better world where lands and waters are healthy for future generations.”
“Senate Republicans,” said Accountable.US president Kyle Herrig, “need to stop fighting for Big Oil and instead fight for the people they were elected to represent. They must work with Democrats to quickly confirm Haaland and let her get to work tackling the climate crisis that threatens us all.”
On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), said he will vote to confirm Haaland as President Biden’s nominee for Interior secretary.
Kenny Stancil is a Staff Writer with Common Dreams.
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