HELENA — Montana’s Republican U.S. senator, Steve Daines, persistently questioned Interior secretary nominee Deb Haaland at her confirmation hearing Tuesday, asking her to explain her positions on oil, gas, pipelines, fracking and grizzly bear recovery.
“What do I tell those 60 families that just lost their jobs as a result of President Biden’s executive action?” Daines asked, at one point, referring to workers affected by the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline construction in Montana.
Haaland, a New Mexico congresswoman and Laguna Pueblo Native American, said she would “do everything I can, I mean it, I will work my heart out for every American” – and that moving forward on Biden’s clean-energy agenda would create millions of new jobs.
Haaland, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, would be the first Native American in a presidential cabinet position.
Haaland faced sharp questions Tuesday from senators from oil-and-gas states, including Daines, who said he had concerns about Haaland’s previous statements and positions opposing oil-and-gas fracking, oil-and-gas leasing on federal lands, and some pipelines.
Daines has said he will block Haaland’s nomination if his concerns are not addressed. His office said he’d be making a decision after the confirmation hearing concludes Wednesday before the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
Montana’s Democratic U.S. senator, Jon Tester, said last month that Haaland’s nomination is “something to celebrate” for its historic nature.
The Montana Wildlife Fund took out full-page ads in some Montana daily newspapers this week, imploring Daines to vote to confirm Haaland, signed by more than 2,500 Montanans. The ads asked Daines to “show your support for Indigenous people and our public lands.”
Western Native Voice, a Billings-based group that advocates for Native American issues, also has been a vocal supporter of Haaland.
Ta’jin Perez, deputy director of the group, told MTN News Tuesday that Haaland has a reputation of working across the partisan aisle on a variety of issues and that suggestions by some senators that her views on energy development are “radical” are off-base.
“We don’t believe that she’s a radical, we don’t believe that she is a puppet for any sort of agenda with the Green New Deal,” he said. “I think that she is her own independent free-thinking person and has clearly voiced and expressed her desire to build consensus with all political players.”
In her opening statement before the committee, Haaland said there is “no question” that fossil-based energy will continue to play a “major role in America for years to come.”
But she said the country must recognize that the energy industry is changing and innovating, and that climate change needs to be addressed.
“Together we can work to position our nation and all of its people for success in the future,” she said. “And I am committed to working cooperatively with all stakeholders and all of Congress to strike the right balance going forward.”
Daines pressed Haaland on grizzly-bear policy, asking her why she co-sponsored legislation providing for federal protection for grizzly bears, into the future, even though bear populations have reached recovery levels in the Yellowstone ecosystem.
“I imagine at the time that I was caring about the bears,” she replied – but added later that she’d be glad to talk to Daines about the issue.
Daines also grilled her over her past statements against oil-and-gas leasing on federal lands, and statements she had made opposing oil-and-gas fracking and oil-and-gas pipelines.
Haaland said the moratorium on oil-and-gas leasing, imposed by President Biden, is a “pause” in the program so it can be re-examined. But she also deflected questions about her personal views by saying that she would be carrying out the agenda of President Biden – not her own.
“If I’m confirmed as secretary, it is President Biden’s agenda that I would move forward,” she said.