WASHINGTON D.C. – Interior Secretary Deb Haaland spoke to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this week, her first time in front of that committee since her testimony during the confirmation process.
Conservatives called Haaland “radical” and an “extremist” during her confirmation. That rhetoric was absent from this week’s meeting as she defended the Interior’s fiscal 2022 budget request, but there were some frustrations from Senate Republicans as she evaded direct answers on policies of the Biden administration.
One of the talking points of that meeting was President Joe Biden’s pick to run the Bureau of Land Management, Tracy Stone-Manning. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of Stone-Manning from consideration, implementing a growing list of prop signage. Barrasso even held up a nail during a meeting earlier this week, trying to show physical evidence related to tree spiking during Idaho protests in the late 1980s that Stone-Manning has been linked to.
Barrasso asked Haaland whether “individuals who plan or otherwise are involved in tree-spiking incidents and threaten physical safety of federal officials expect to be hired by the Department of Interior.”
Haaland answered Wyoming’s senior senator, saying if he was referring to Stone-Manning, “she was nominated by President Biden because he felt she could do the job and that she was qualified otherwise.”
Following that exchange, Haaland said she is not personally hiring anyone. She said she had not been aware of Stone-Manning’s history at the time of her nomination and has not spoken with her throughout the process.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee also peppered questions at Haaland throughout the committee meeting. At one point, Lee and Barrasso teamed to ask Haaland if Stone-Manning’s statements as a graduate student over 30 years ago – which argued for population control and criticizing livestock grazing – as destroying the West.
“I haven’t heard these statements,” Haaland said. “I believe there are a lot of things that are destroying the West, like drought and wildfire and climate change.”
Also during the committee meeting, Haaland said the latest oil and gas report will be released shortly, after the president completes his full review and gives discretion.
The Biden administration ordered a pause on purchases of federal leases for the development of oil and gas earlier this year. A federal judge blocked the administration’s leasing moratorium last month. The legality of that moratorium is still being argued in the courts but, in the interim, Senate Republicans have called for the immediate restart of lease actions.
“It is past time for the administration to comply with the law and hold new lease sales,” Barrasso said. “The Biden administration seems intent on destroying the livelihoods of oil, natural gas and coal workers in the West.”
Haaland said the Interior is complying with that court order and working to open federal leasing. She, however, offered little detail and did not allude to any timetable on when that information could be shared with the public or lawmakers.
The Interior secretary also offered no new details into the current administration’s “America the Beautiful” campaign that was initially introduced in May. That plan was aimed at conserving 30 percent of lands and waters each by the end of the decade.
Currently, according to numbers supplied by the U.S. Geological Survey, about 12 percent of land is permanently protected, as is 23 percent of the country’s oceans. That does not include mixed-use sites like U.S. Forest Service or BLM land for activities like mining.