President Biden’s nominee to be secretary of the Interior, Rep. Deb Haaland, faced a flurry of questions on Tuesday about her embrace of the progressive Green New Deal, her anti-fracking stance and her earlier comments about Republicans — including casting doubt on their belief in science — during a contentious Senate confirmation hearing.
In her opening statement, Haaland, a Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico, said she would carry out Biden’s views on the environment and added that she believes a “balance” can be found between the use of fossil fuels and the desire to battle climate change.
“There’s 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 fund critical services,” she told the senators.
“But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the ranking Republican on the Senate and Energy Resources Committee, confronted Haaland about a tweet she posted in October 2020 in which she said GOP lawmakers don’t believe in science.
Barrasso, a surgeon, asked her: “Do you think that as medical doctors we don’t believe in science? How do you stand by this statement?” Barrasso asked.
“Senator, yes, if you’re a doctor, I would assume that you believe in science,” she responded.
His line of questioning set the tone for most of the hearing as Haaland tried to appeal to more moderate Republicans, but also Sen. Joe Manchin, a right-leaning Democrat from West Virginia, who told her he wanted to see the “evolution not elimination” of coal mining.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) pressed her on the Keystone XL pipeline, asking whether her Interior Department would “be guided by a prejudice against fossil fuel, or will it be guided by science?”
“Senator, if I could just take the liberty of saying prejudice on fossil fuels perhaps isn’t the way that I would describe it. I would say that President Biden is moving toward the tremendous opportunities that we have in diversifying our energy resources,” said Haaland, who if confirmed would be the first Native American cabinet secretary.
She would be responsible for managing all of the nation’s natural resources, including oil, gas and clean coal, and more than 500 million acres of federal and tribal lands.
She would also be in charge of making good on Biden’s promises to reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and create more renewable energy sources.
Like Barrasso, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) hammered her on her support of the Green New Deal that was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and asked her what she had to say to the thousands who lost their jobs in the fossil fuel industry.
“I believe there are millions of jobs in a clean energy future,” Haaland, who has said she “wholeheartedly supports the Green New Deal, 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.”
She emphasized during questioning that she would implement the policies of the president and not her own personal beliefs.
When Daines asked her if she supported a ban on fracking and the elimination of oil and gas pipelines, Haaland said, “President Biden does not support a ban on fracking is my understanding.”
Pressed further, she said: “If I am confirmed as secretary, I would be serving at the pleasure of the President and it would be his agenda that I would move forward.”
Haaland, 60, a member of the Laguna Pueblo reservation, said her grandparents taught her to respect the environment while growing up in New Mexico.
“It was there that I learned about our culture from my grandmother by watching her cook and by participating in traditional feast days and ceremonies,” Haaland said in her opening statement.
“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.”
Her confirmation hearing will continue on Wednesday.