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U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland sought to downplay her previous statements against fracking and drilling, while also reiterating that the Biden administration is committed to shifting toward clean energy.
President Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Interior promised lawmakers on Tuesday that she would strive to “strike the right balance” on land conservation and energy development—acknowledging that while the administration will prioritize clean energy, a transition away from fossil fuels will not happen overnight.
During a Senate confirmation hearing, U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland faced tough questions about her opposition to drilling and fracking on federal lands from Republicans worried about the loss of energy sector jobs in their states. The Biden administration ordered a temporary pause on new oil and gas leases on federal land last month, and Republican members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee pressed Haaland on whether she would support making the ban permanent.
Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the committee, cited estimates that a long-term ban on the lease of federal lands for oil and gas production would lead to 62,000 job losses in Haaland’s home state of New Mexico and 33,000 job losses in his home state of Wyoming.
“Why not just let these workers keep their jobs?” Barrasso said. “If confirmed, would you tell the president it’s unwise to continue the pause as a permanent ban?”
Haaland reiterated that Biden’s pause of the program was not permanent.
“There are still thousands of leases and permits that are moving forward,” she said.
The hearing came as 17 Republican governors wrote to Biden on Monday to ask him to reconsider the temporary ban, saying that consumer demand requires energy be produced on both private land and public land.
If confirmed, Haaland would oversee a sprawling agency, with a $21 billion budget and more than 70,000 employees, that manages public lands and national parks and administers programs related to Native Americans.
As a member of the Laguna Pueblo Nation, Haaland’s nomination is historic and her confirmation would make her the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency. Republicans have described Haaland—a supporter of the Green New Deal—as too radical for the post. But she’s garnered support from progressive groups as well as Native Americans who believe she will be able to improve the federal government’s relationship with tribal governments and to protect public lands and address climate change.
It remained unclear Tuesday whether Haaland would earn the support of Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democratic committee chairman. Manchin, whose home state of West Virginia has relied heavily on the coal industry, asked Haaland whether the U.S. needs to be able to maintain its energy independence.
“I know we want to move forward with clean energy and to get to net zero,” Haaland said. “That’s not going to happen overnight. So, we will absolutely rely on fossil energy. But at the same time, I think we can move forward with technology and innovation.”
Sen. Steve Daines, of Montana, also asked Haaland about the impact of Biden administration policies on local economies, saying 60 people in Fallon County, Montana had lost jobs related to construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline between Canada and the U.S. Biden revoked a key permit for the project shortly after taking office.
"What do I tell these 60 families that just lost their jobs?" Daines said.
Haaland, who mentioned her background during her testimony as a single mother who had lived paycheck to paycheck and relied on food stamps, cited her past financial struggles.
“I understand what that is like. I have struggled myself as well and been without a job at various times in my life,” Haaland said. “I will work my heart out for every American. If we can move President Biden’s agenda forward together we can create those millions of jobs.”
She also cited Biden’s plan to create a Civilian Climate Corps as one way to spur green energy and conservation-related job growth.
Haaland’s nomination hearing is expected to resume Wednesday morning.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.