Shiny WONDERFUL Thing! Deb Haaland Is Boss Of Interior, You!
The Senate voted Monday to confirm Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) as secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native American confirmed as a presidential Cabinet secretary, and only the third woman to hold the post. The Interior Department manages the USA's public lands — about a fifth of the land in the country — as well as national parks, offshore waters, and endangered species. Since about a quarter of US greenhouse gas emissions come from oil and gas extracted from public lands, Haaland will play a huge role in carrying out Joe Biden's plans for reducing fossil fuel use and moving toward net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The greatest impact of Haaland's confirmation, though, is that for for the first time ever, a Native American will be heading the agency that directs federal policy on Indigenous people, through agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education. The AP points out that her confirmation hearings last month drew hundreds of Indigenous viewers for online watch parties, and Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said it was " long past time that an American Indian serve" as Interior secretary:
The nation needs her leadership and vision to help lead our response to climate change, to steward our lands and cultural resources and to ensure that across the federal government, the United States lives up to its trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations and our citizens.
Haaland's confirmation prompted press outlets to be remarkably upfront about the history of the department she now leads. NPR was refreshingly frank about that legacy, saying, "For much of its history, the Interior Department was used as a tool of oppression against America's Indigenous peoples." And the New York Times was just as blunt, noting that Interior "has spent much of its history abusing or neglecting America's Indigenous people." The AP noted that for most of its history, "The federal government often worked to dispossess tribes of their land and, until recently, to assimilate them into white culture." No equivocation about it, and good for them. Is our journalists learning?
This is Haaland's second time making history; as you'll recall, as part of the 2018 blue wave, Haaland and Sharice Davids of Kansas became the first two Native American women elected to Congress. It's a pretty big deal, as Haaland acknowledged when she was nominated:
A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior. Growing up in m… https://t.co/PHHxe9mWaE— Deb Haaland (@Deb Haaland) 1608249601.0
The 51-40 vote to confirm Haaland, the AP says, is the narrowest margin for any Biden Cabinet member so far, largely due to opposition from Republicans who spent her confirmation hearing trying to depict her as a radical environmentalist and maybe a grizzly-bear-hugging drug pusher, too (she once suggested New Mexico could replace oil revenue by legalizing and taxing weed). Just four Republicans voted to confirm her: Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Susan Collins (Maine), and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina). One of her fiercest GOP opponents in the confirmation hearing, John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), was unable to get to Washington at all to vote against her due to the blizzard that hit the Mountain West this weekend; the storms also grounded Wyoming's other senator, Cynthia Lummis (R) and the two Democrats from Colorado, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper.
Haaland is expected to be a key player in undoing the damage the Trump administration did at Interior, which in the last four years became a very large rubber stamp reading "APPROVED" for oil and gas leases, and rolling back any environmental policy under its purview. The last Interior secretary, David Bernhardt, was a freaking oil lobbyist. Haaland wants to shift the department's focus to promoting green energy and mitigation of climate change, and to advance Biden's plans to shift to cleaner energy. During her confirmation hearings, she made a point — too much, we thought — of telling Republicans that the Biden administration's freeze on new oil and gas leases on public lands was only a temporary measure while policy is reviewed, but any honest review should point toward leaving fossil fuels in the ground.
So congratulations to Deb Haaland. She seems to be exactly the right person for the job of bringing some sanity back to a hugely important agency.
[NPR / AP/ NYT / Indian Country Today]
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