Rep. Deb Haaland, the New Mexico Democrat from Laguna Pueblo, is expected to play a high profile role in the new administration’s battle against climate change.
Soon after then-President elect Joe Biden named Haaland as his pick to run the Department of Interior, he also placed the 60-year-old on a newly formed climate change team.
The team includes Gina McCarthy, former President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan, among others. The team is thought to represent the largest group of climate change experts ever brought together in the White House.
President Biden said the team would make clean energy jobs and environmental protections a priority in his administration. His environmental reform efforts are expected to move forward quickly. Indeed, one of his first actions after taking office Jan. 20 was to bring the U.S. back into the Paris climate accord – an international agreement designed to abate the catastrophic effects of global warming.
Biden’s climate change plan is also touted as economic stimulus. It calls for 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations, the construction of 1.5 million new energy-efficient homes and public housing units, and the creation of a “civilian climate corps” to carry out climate and conservation projects.
Meanwhile, Haaland has a history of work on environmental issues. In her acceptance speech after being nominated to lead the Interior, she said she’d “move climate change priorities, tribal consultation and a green economic recovery forward.” Haaland was a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal legislation.
“I’ll be fierce for all of us, for our planet, and all of our protected land,” Haaland said.
The raised visibility of Haaland and her role in the federal government’s environmental efforts are of particular interest to Native Americans. Indigenous communities are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change impacts. In Florida, those impacts include sea level rise, ever more frequent and powerful storms and habitat loss to name a few.
As head of the Interior, Haaland would oversee one-fifth of all the land in the U.S., including 1.7 billion acres of coastline. The department also manages national parks, wildlife refuges and natural resources. Experts say a shift in direction at the department could have swift implications for the environment – the U.S. Geological Survey estimates 25% of all carbon emissions come from fossil fuels that are extracted on public lands.
Haaland has previously opposed several Trump administration policies related to federal lands, including his efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling.
In early 2020, Haaland sponsored legislation in Congress that would set a national goal of protecting 30% of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030. The plan has been adopted by the Biden administration as part of its environmental agenda.
Haaland’s confirmation hearing has yet to be scheduled. If confirmed, she would be the first Native American cabinet secretary in history, and would serve as the head of an agency that is responsible for managing the federal government’s relationship with 574 tribes.
Her path to Senate confirmation is not expected to be met with much Republican resistance, however there have been some groups that oppose action on climate change that have described Haaland as “radical” on energy issues.
In addition, her confirmation should follow a smoother path as Democrats now control the Senate, although by the narrowest of margins.