Deb Haaland resigns as she takes over reins of Interior Department

Deb Haaland delivered her final speech in Congress on Tuesday. Haaland resigned from her congressional seat a day after her confirmation as Secretary of the Department of the Interior. “I thought I would have more time here, but we are called to service in different ways. Though I’m excited to become the first Native American cabinet secretary in history,” she said. “I’m also sad to leave this chamber.”

She won her second reelection in the 1st Congressional District last November, then President Joe Biden picked her to head the Secretary of the Interior.

Haaland confirmed as Interior Secretary

The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior on a 51-40 vote Monday afternoon. With the vote, Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo, became the first Native American cabinet-level official in U.S. history and put her in charge of a sprawling department with key interactions with sovereign tribal governments. The Interior Department is the parent agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “Thank you to the U.S. Senate for your confirmation vote today,” Haaland said on Twitter after the vote. “As Secretary of @Interior, I look forward to collaborating with all of you.

Haaland nomination to head Interior heads to full Senate

The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to advance U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland’s nomination to lead the Interior Department. The committee voted 11-9, with Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voting along with Democrats, to send the nomination to the full Senate. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico was among the Democrats who voted to advance Haaland’s nomination. “I am pleased that Congresswoman Haaland’s confirmation is advancing, and I am eager for the full Senate to take up her nomination so she can get to work protecting our natural heritage for future generations,” Heinrich said. Heinrich, a second-term Senator, has been a key voice supporting Haaland’s nomination.

Another key Senator signals support for Haaland’s nomination to head Interior

In another sign that U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland will be confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Joe Biden’s Secretary of the Interior, a Republican announced she would vote in favor of confirmation. Maine’s Susan Collins told HuffPost that she would vote for the confirmation. “After examining Representative Deb Haaland’s qualifications, reviewing her hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and meeting with her personally, I will vote to confirm her to be the Secretary of the Department of the Interior,” Collins told the news outlet. Haaland would become the first Native American cabinet-level official once confirmed. She was one of the first two Native American women to be elected to Congress, along with Sharice Davids of Kansas, in 2018.

Haaland likely headed for confirmation as Interior Secretary after hearing

The most significant news for U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland’s Interior Secretary nomination didn’t come during the second day of her confirmation hearing, but afterwards. That’s because U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, announced he would vote in favor of her nomination. With an evenly split 50-50 chamber between those who caucus with Democrats and Republicans, Manchin has an outsized influence on nominations. Manchin is also the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which held the confirmation hearing for Haaland this week. The committee also has an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.

Report: Biden chooses Haaland for Interior Secretary

President-elect Joe Biden will name Deb Haaland as his nominee to head the U.S. Department of the Interior, according to a report by the Washington Post on Thursday, ending weeks of rumors and pushes by various factions in the form of anonymous quotes and leaks. If confirmed, Haaland would be the first Native American to hold the key position regarding public lands and environmental issues throughout the country. Haaland is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, one of New Mexico’s 23 federally recognized tribes and pueblos. Tribes have long had tensions with the Interior Department, over things like oil and gas drilling. As for Haaland, she—and other members of the congressional delegation—were behind a push to protect land around Chaco Canyon from oil and gas development.

DOI ‘expediting’ Chaco drilling proposal during pandemic

A proposal that would increase oil and gas drilling in the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico is one of a long list of energy projects that are being “expedited” by the U.S. Department of Interior during the COVID-19 pandemic, under the direction of the Trump Administration. 

The information was revealed in a letter dated July 15 from the DOI Deputy Secretary Katharine MacGregor and obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and provided to NM Political Report. 

The revelation comes as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) face sharp criticism from state government officials, congressional lawmakers and local communities in the northwest portion of the state for the agencies’ handling of the public comment period associated with the proposal, conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

‘Hollow’ promise of public engagement

The Farmington field office of the BLM is in the midst of amending the area’s resource management plan, which governs oil and gas development on BLM lands. BLM officials have been working on the proposal, referred to as the Mancos-Gallup RMPA, for years, but in late February—just days before the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Mexico—the BLM released a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the plan, which triggered a 60-day public comment period. The proposal could enable up to 3,000 new oil and gas wells to be drilled in the area. 

Communities in northwestern New Mexico, including the Navajo Nation, were hit hard and fast by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. As cases of COVID-19 surged in the area, tribal governments and local community groups in the Greater Chaco region requested the BLM extend the public comment period during the public health emergency. That call was echoed by the state government, the congressional delegation, and tribal leaders.

Udall: Interior Department should be ‘center’ of U.S. climate change response

U.S. Sen.Tom Udall said the U.S. Department of the Interior could play a pivotal role in the country’s response to climate change during an August 15 webinar hosted by conservation advocacy group WildEarth Guardians. “The Interior Department should be right at the center of climate, endangered ecosystems, taking better care of the land, coming up with a good land ethic and dealing with the diversity issues and the environmental justice issues,” Udall told WildEarth Guardians executive director John Horning. “The next president is going to want to do something about climate, the Interior Department is going to be at the center of that.”

Udall’s father, Stewart Udall, served as Secretary of the Interior under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Udall referenced his father’s work at the Interior, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, protecting species before the Endangered Species Act became law, and supporting diversity amid the Interior Department’s ranks. 

RELATED: Land and Water Conservation Fund one step closer to securing full funding after Senate passage

He lamented the recent exodus of career employees at the department under the Trump administration, which he referred to as “a hollowing out” of the department. 

“This is the saddest part. One of the things that my father used to talk about was what a treasure the Interior Department career employees are.

Trump administration transfers land to Army to build border wall

The Trump administration announced Thursday it transferred  560 acres of land administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior to the U.S. Army to pave the way for the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico—including some land in New Mexico. The land in New Mexico includes a 170 acre parcel that includes parts of Luna and Hidalgo counties for “replacement of existing vehicle barrier with pedestrian barrier.” An additional 43 acres in Hidalgo County is slated for “construction of new primary and secondary pedestrian barriers.”

The announcement by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said the transfer would allow the construction of about 70 miles of border barriers. 

The move comes after the Trump administration diverted $3.6 billion in funding for military projects to fund the controversial border wall. “Absent this action, national security and natural resource values will be lost,” Bernhardt said. “The impacts of this crisis are vast and must be aggressively addressed with extraordinary measures.”

Of the $3.6 billion in diverted military funds, $125 million comes from projects slated for New Mexico, at Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. Thursday’s move drew immediate condemnation from members of New Mexico’s federal delegation.

Zinke leaves unfinished business at the Interior Department

On the second day of 2019, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted out his resignation letter to President Donald Trump. After less than two years in office, he claimed to have “restored public lands ‘for the benefit & enjoyment of the people,’ improved public access & shall never be held hostage again for our energy needs.”

That appears to be Zinke’s view of the legacy his abbreviated tenure will leave on the Interior Department’s more than 500 million acres of land and roughly 70,000 employees. Critics might interpret his garbled syntax as a confession: that he turned over public land to industry — pushing oil and gas leases in sensitive habitat, rescinding environmental protections and shrinking national monuments. But what, really, did Zinke accomplish? This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission.