Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., took a step toward a barrier-breaking achievement Tuesday when she made her first appearance before a Senate committee considering her nomination as a Cabinet secretary.
Haaland introduced herself in the Keres language to a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and said in her opening remarks that she would “strike the right balance” of protecting the environment and working with the fossil fuel industry. She succinctly answered questions – many directly critical of her previous statements against the fossil fuel industry – for almost all of the more than two-hour hearing, which will continue today.
Haaland, who has given few interviews since December when she was nominated for secretary of the Department of the Interior, pledged during the hearing to “work her heart out for everyone,” including people of color, communities affected by toxic pollution and the families of fossil fuel workers.
“There is no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come. I know how important oil and gas revenues are to critical services,” she said in her opening remarks. “But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating and our climate challenge must be addressed.”
If approved by the Senate, Haaland will make history by becoming the first Native American to be a secretary in the president’s Cabinet.
“The historic nature of my confirmation is not lost on me, but I will say that it is not about me,” Haaland said. “Rather, I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans – moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, she talked about spending summers as a child with her grandparents in Mesita, a small village on Laguna Pueblo, of which Haaland is a member.
“It was in the cornfields with my grandfather, where I learned the importance of water and protecting our resources, and where I gained a deep respect for the Earth,” she said.
She also described her humble upbringing and early adulthood, including living paycheck to paycheck as a single mother. The Democrat represents New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, which includes most of Albuquerque and surrounding areas. She was elected to the seat in 2018 and reelected in November.
Both environmental and Native American advocacy organizations, including tribal leaders in New Mexico and other states, have thrown their support behind Haaland’s nomination.
Media outlets in Washington, D.C., reported that her portrait was projected onto the outside of the Interior Department building in advance of Tuesday’s hearing.
She was introduced at the hearing by Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who attested to Haaland’s ability to work with both parties.
“I will suggest you will find out she will listen to you. She might not change. Her and I don’t agree on carbon fuels,” Young said. “But she worked with me. She is across the aisle. … She’s been able to do that.”
Haaland faced aggressive questions from Republican lawmakers for previous statements on energy issues. Haaland has publicly supported bans on fracking, and she co-sponsored the Green New Deal.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, during the hearing described Haaland’s views as “radical” to his state. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, asked Haaland what Daines should say to thousands of his constituents who have lost jobs in the fossil fuel industry.
“I believe there are millions of jobs in a clean energy future,” Haaland responded. “If we can all work together. I think we can do it all. I think we can protect our public lands and create jobs.”
Asked about other positions she’s taken in the past, she recognized she’ll be assuming a different role.
“It’s to serve all Americans,” she said of being a Cabinet secretary. “Not just my one district in New Mexico.”
If she is confirmed, Haaland will resign from her House seat, triggering a special election. About a dozen people, both Republicans and Democrats, and an independent, have declared their intent to seek Haaland’s seat.