Analysis by Energy Workforce SVP Government Affairs & Counsel Tim Tarpley
On Monday, Deb Haaland was confirmed as the 54th Secretary of Interior. The former Representative from New Mexico is the first Native American to serve in a U.S. president’s cabinet.
This position is critical to the OFS sector as the Interior Department manages 20% of U.S. land, which contains a quarter of the nation’s oil and gas production. Haaland will lead development and implementation of President Biden’s climate agenda policies.
Her most immediate challenge will be balancing competing priorities from Democrats. Within the Democratic party is a vocal group that wants to curtail oil and gas development on federal lands. Moderate Democrats believe halting oil and gas development on federal lands would undermine the energy transition and devastate economies in communities across the country.
Haaland was confirmed 51-40 with Republican senators Lisa Murkowski (AK), Susan Collins (ME), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Dan Sullivan (AK) joining Democrats in support. Her nomination was also bolstered by support from Rep. Don Young (R-AK), who served with her on the House Natural Resources Committee. His support softened what could have been stronger Republican opposition. Young said that while he does not agree with her on all issues, she’s a good partner he could work with to ensure energy development continues in Alaska and across the country.
When Haaland served in the House, she was a proponent of the “keep it in the ground” philosophy. She opposed oil and gas development in New Mexico and nationwide. She actively protested the Dakota access pipeline.
However, Haaland softened her position during the confirmation hearing and said her responsibilities as Secretary of Interior would be different than those she had as a member of Congress. She promised to work with states on energy development and to support the Biden agenda on energy even if it conflicted with her past views.
SIGNIFICANT ACTIONS AT INTERIOR
Haaland takes over an Interior Department that has taken significant actions this year. Earlier this week, the agency announced it would not renew the 60-day “pause” on oil and gas permitting, which expires this weekend. Interior will return authority to the Bureau of Land Management to process drilling permits and other activities on valid, existing leases.
This is a positive development the Council has been urging since the order was imposed. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan from New Mexico released a joint statement praising the decision.
“We are pleased that the Department of Interior heeded our call to expeditiously complete its review of its permitting programs on public lands, including energy development and land transactions,” they said in their statement.
“While a temporary review period at the beginning of the new administration is reasonable, extending the review period could have led to unnecessary delays that would have a negative impact on New Mexico’s economy. We will continue to work with our colleagues in Congress and the entire Biden administration to ensure that energy states like ours are able to make a smooth transition to a diversified economy based on clean energy and a carbon-free future. Oil and gas workers and the communities they live in have helped build our nation for more than a century, and revenues from mineral production have supported New Mexico’s educational system and state budget.”
Haaland will have to deal with increasing angst from Democrats in New Mexico and around the country about Biden’s indefinite ban on new oil and gas leases on federal land. Last week, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she was “deeply concerned” about the policy and asked for a waiver for New Mexico. Both of New Mexico’s senators sent letters questioning the policy.
The Department of Interior will hold a hearing to address these concerns on March 25.
“The federal oil and gas program is not serving the American public well,” said Laura Daniel-Davis, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary-Land and Minerals, in the release announcing the hearing. “It’s time to take a close look at how best to manage our resources with current and future generations in mind. The forum will help inform the Department’s near-term actions to restore balance on America’s lands and waters and to put our public lands’ energy programs on a more sound and sustainable conservation, fiscal and climate footing.”
The Council will continue to work with allies in the House, Senate and at the state level to pressure Haaland and the administration to end this unpopular policy or provide a clear timeframe for how long the leasing moratorium will last. While we are bolstered by the positive statements by senators Heinrich and Lujan, as well as Gov. Grisham, we must maintain our advocacy work in the coming months.
We hope Interior will use the hearing to clarify the policy, and we will continue to monitor this important issue and keep Council members informed.
For more information on the Council’s advocacy efforts or to get involved, contact SVP Government Affairs & Counsel Tim Tarpley.