Written by Coral Davenport
Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico made historical past Monday when the Senate confirmed her as President Joe Biden’s secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native American to steer a Cabinet company.
Haaland in 2018 grew to become one of many first two Native American ladies elected to the House. But her new place is especially redolent of historical past as a result of the division she now leads has spent a lot of its historical past abusing or neglecting America’s Indigenous folks.
Beyond the Interior Department’s accountability for the well-being of the nation’s 1.9 million Native folks, it oversees about 500 million acres of public land, federal waters off the U.S. shoreline, an enormous system of dams and reservoirs throughout the Western U.S. and the safety of 1000’s of endangered species.
“A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” she wrote on Twitter earlier than the vote. “Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce. I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land.”
Republican opposition to her affirmation centered on Haaland’s historical past of preventing in opposition to oil and gasoline exploration, and the deliberations round her nomination highlighted her rising function within the public debates on local weather change, power coverage and racial fairness. She was confirmed on a 51-40 vote. Only 4 Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, voted for Haaland’s affirmation.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican chief, mentioned supporting her affirmation “would be voting to raise gas prices for families who are already struggling, to raise fuel and heating bills for seniors on a fixed income, to take the tough times we’ve been going through and make them even tougher.”
The new inside secretary shall be charged with basically reversing the company’s mission over the previous 4 years. The Interior Department, led by David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, performed a central function within the Trump administration’s systematic rollback of environmental laws and the opening up of the nation’s lands and waters to drilling and mining.
Haaland is anticipated to shortly halt new drilling, reinstate wildlife conservation guidelines, quickly develop wind and solar energy on public lands and waters, and place the Interior Department on the middle of Biden’s local weather agenda.
At the identical time, Haaland will fairly possible assume a central function in realizing Biden’s promise to make racial fairness a theme in his administration. Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo who identifies herself as a Thirty fifth-generation New Mexican, will assume management of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education, the place she will be able to handle the wants of a inhabitants that has suffered from abuse and dislocation by the hands of the United States authorities for generations, and that has been disproportionately devastated by the coronavirus.
“You’ve heard the Earth referred to as Mother Earth,” Haaland mentioned at her Senate affirmation listening to. “It’s difficult to not feel obligated to protect this land. And I feel every Indigenous person in the country understands that.”
Lynn Scarlett, who served as deputy inside secretary below George W. Bush and is now a senior official on the Nature Conservancy, warned, “It’s an enormous job, an enormously complex job.”
“The Interior Department has a footprint in all 50 states,” she mentioned. “Its policies touch each and every American.”
As the company takes on a newly muscular function in addressing local weather change, she added, the division “will have to deal with new strategies for managing more intense wildfires on public land and chronic drought in the West. It’s hard to overstate the challenges with water.”
Among the first and most contentious gadgets on Haaland’s to-do listing shall be enacting Biden’s marketing campaign pledge to ban new permits for oil and gasoline initiatives on public lands.
Already, the White House has positioned a short-term halt on issuing new oil and gasoline leases on public lands, which has drawn fierce assaults from Republicans and the oil and gasoline business.
Complicating Haaland’s efforts to formulate new land administration insurance policies shall be a logistical hurdle: the deliberate relocation of the Bureau of Land Management, an company inside the Interior Department that oversees oil and gasoline drilling insurance policies. The bureau is anticipated to maneuver again to Washington from Grand Junction, Colorado, the place it was moved by the Trump administration.
“You need to move that back to D.C. and build it back,” mentioned Joel Clement, a former Interior Department professional in local weather change coverage who resigned from the company in protest of the Trump administration insurance policies. “The staff, the budget — all these people who were supposed to work with Congress on these policies were pushed out West, or they left,” he mentioned. “They are hugely demoralized.”
Haaland can be anticipated to revisit the Trump administration’s rollback of habitat protections below the Endangered Species Act. Under the Trump guidelines, it grew to become simpler to take away a species from the endangered listing, and for the first time, regulators have been allowed to conduct financial assessments — for example, estimating misplaced income from a prohibition on logging in a vital habitat — when deciding whether or not a species warrants safety.
Such guidelines led to an exodus of workers, significantly from the Fish and Wildlife Service, Clement mentioned.
“There’s a rebuilding that needs to happen there,” he mentioned.
The Interior Department additionally should submit an in depth new plan by June 2022 that lays out how the federal authorities will handle the huge outer continental shelf off the American shoreline, an space wealthy in marine wilderness and undersea oil and gasoline sources.