With the decision by Sen. Joe Manchin, (D-W.Va.) on Feb. 24 to vote to confirm New Mexico Rep. Debra Haaland to lead the U.S. Interior Dept. under President Joe Biden, her confirmation is set up to be along party lines and will likely require Vice President Kamala Harris to break a 50-50 tie vote in the Senate, say Washington observers.
The Senate on Feb. 25 meanwhile confirmed Jennifer Granholm as US Energy Secretary in a 64-35 vote, who, like Haaland, faced some Republican pushback over the loss of fossil fuel industry jobs as a result of the new administration's climate change and clean energy approach and the president's Jan. 20 permit halt for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
“While we do not agree on every issue, Haaland reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation’s energy independence,” said Manchin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and the Environment, which held two days of contentious hearings on her nomination on Feb. 23 and 24.
The Biden administration’s renewable energy strategy prompted Republicans from oil and gas producing states to press Haaland on the future of fossil fuels. Sen. Bill Cassidy, (R-La.), asked her whether the administration “will be guided by a prejudice against fossil fuel, or will it be guided by science?”
Haaland noted that fossil energy “does and will continue to play a major role” in the U.S. well into the future. “But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed,” Haaland said in her opening statement to the committee.
Manchin, who also represents a fossil-fuel rich state, said he hopes the transition to a cleaner energy future will be through “innovation, not elimination.”
Republicans were wary of Haaland’s support of Biden's hold on new oil and gas leases on public lands. Sen. John Barrasso, (R-Wyo.), asked Haaland about a potential loss of thousands of jobs under a permanent ban.
Haaland noted that the administration is reviewing the leasing policy. and that existing oil and gas leases are being renewed under the temporary ban. She added that she was not sure when the administration would finish its review.
Sen. James Risch, (R-Idaho), grilled Haaland on whether she supported Biden’s cancellation of Keystone XL. Refusing to give a yes or no answer, she said Biden cares “deeply” about the environment and jobs and that she supports his agenda.
Sen. John Hoeven, (R-N.D.), asked Haaland if she would recuse herself from pipeline issues because she stood with protestors against construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. She said she will consult with department ethics officials before becoming involved with the pipeline, if confirmed.
In his statement regarding support for Haaland, Manchin noted that her colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including Rep. Don Young, (R-Alaska), spoke of her willingness to work collaboratively on important issues and her bipartisan accomplishments.
Haaland would be the first Native American to hold a cabinet position. “I would suggest respectfully that her working with her Native people would be beneficial,” Young said.
As Interior Secretary, Haaland would be responsible for 500 million acres of federal lands and nearly 2 million indigenous members of 574 federally recognized tribes.
The agency also includes the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which regulates ocean leases for oil and gas offshore drilling and for newly developing offshore wind energy projects.