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Groups across the West voice support for Biden's nominee for Interior secretary
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Groups across the West voice support for Biden's nominee for Interior secretary

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The Biden administration's nominee for Secretary of Interior, Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., speaks at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware on Dec. 20.

As the confirmation hearing of New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland approaches this month, hundreds of national and regional environmental justice organizations have come out in support of her nomination for secretary of the Interior, including some in Wyoming.

Over 500 groups — from conservationists and Indigenous leaders to outdoor businesses — signed a letter last week endorsing the congresswoman. Supporters cited her legacy of protecting federal public lands and honoring Native American treaty rights.

Haaland is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna Tribe and if confirmed, would become the country’s first Native American cabinet member. The significance of this potential milestone has not been lost on her supporters.

The Interior Department is a top federal agency tasked with managing the nation’s lands, waters and natural resources, along with the federal government’s relationship with tribal nations.

It’s also a branch of government with a long history of breaking its obligations with sovereign tribal nations.

“Given DOI’s (Department of Interior’s) track record of failing to consult with Tribes or engage with Indigenous communities while enacting public lands policies against the better interests of Indigenous people, Rep. Haaland’s confirmation would be both an historic and much-needed step toward reckoning with a long and troubling legacy while building new, lasting, equitable achievements,” the letter stated.

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Haaland serves as vice chair of the House Natural Resources Committee and chair of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands subcommittee. During her time as a representative of New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, she has voted in favor of bipartisan legislation impacting Wyoming’s public lands and waters, including the Great American Outdoors Act and America’s Conservation Enhancement Act.

Haaland will likely have to face down resistance from Wyoming’s senators, both who have come out in opposition to her nomination.

Sens. Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso fear she will implement policies to restrict oil and gas development. Wyoming heavily relies on revenues from fossil fuel activity on federal lands.

If confirmed, Haaland will likely have to confront the backlash against President Joe Biden’s decision early on to pause new federal oil and gas leasing. The new presidential administration’s orders have been met with aggressive opposition from Wyoming’s leaders and other states reliant on federal oil and gas development. They argue the pause will result in job losses and other economic hardships for the state.

Biden’s Interior Department issued a Jan. 20 secretarial order requiring top officials to approve any new oil and gas leases or permits. That was followed by a separate executive order instituting a moratorium on new leases, pending a review of its oil and gas leasing program.

Haaland currently represents New Mexico, a state deeply dependent on oil and natural gas drilling. In 2020, New Mexico received $706 million from the Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue, thanks to oil and gas development on federal lands. That’s more money than any other state in the country.

Wyoming is another top recipient of federal oil and gas royalties and received $457 million last year.

Haaland’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Commitee on Energy and Natural Resources will begin at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Follow the latest on Wyoming’s energy industry and the environment at @camillereports

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Energy and Natural Resources Reporter

Camille Erickson covers the state's energy industries. She received her master's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Before moving to Casper in 2019, she reported on business and labor in Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington.

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