President Biden's nominee to be Secretary of the Interior, New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland, faced a barrage of difficult questions Tuesday from Senators representing energy states like Oklahoma. It was day one of the Rep. Haaland's confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The fate of Rep. Haaland's nomination is being watched closely in Oklahoma, in part because of its implications for Indian Country. Haaland is the first Native American nominated for a Cabinet position and, perhaps fittingly, would take control of the Department of Interior, which holds millions of acres of tribal land in trust.
To the extent that all federal land -- approximately 20 percent of the country -- is managed by the Department of the Interior, the secretary has significant influence over mineral production on federal lands, a focal point for most energy producing states.
"There's no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come," said Haaland in her opening statement.
Being from New Mexico, Haaland said she understands the importance of oil and gas jobs and revenue, but she also said her Native American heritage has helped reinforce the importance of taking care of the earth and told Senators the nation must embrace innovation and move toward the production of cleaner energy.
"I am committed to working cooperatively with all stakeholders and all of Congress," Rep. Haaland said, "to strike the right balance going forward."
Still, with the Biden administration already pausing new drilling leases on federal land and Haaland having expressed support for the Green New Deal as a member of Congress, some question what the 'right balance' would look like with Haaland as Interior Secretary.
"You've made some pretty bold statements in the past, saying 'no fracking', 'no pipelines'," commented Sen. James Lankford, (R) Oklahoma.
Sen. Lankford is a new member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and told Haaland the recent cold spell was an object lesson on the need for diverse energy sources, including fossil fuels. He also explained that tribes, like the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, rely heavily on mineral rights.
"It's a significant amount of income for the tribe, and it's significant to the state, as well," said Lankford. "What would be your standards on oil and gas development, mineral development in tribal areas?"
Haaland thanked Lankford for the question but said she could not give him a specific answer now. If confirmed, she said, she would look forward to working with Senator Lankford more on the issue.
She also pointed out that her past comments should be taken in their proper context: "If I’m confirmed as Secretary, that is a far different role than for a congresswoman representing one small district in my state," Rep. Haaland explained, "so I understand that role -- it’s to serve all Americans, not just my one district in New Mexico."
The hearing will resume Wednesday.