WASHINGTON — In a bitter and at times high-decibel round of questioning at her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Interior nominee Rep. Deb Haaland again fielded questions from Senate Republicans from oil and gas-producing states about the Biden administration’s energy policies.
It was the New Mexico Democrat’s second morning in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will vote on whether to advance her history-making nomination as the first Native American to serve as Interior secretary.
GOP Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the top Republican on the committee, pressed Haaland about fossil fuels and grizzly bears. Barrasso argued that the Endangered Species Act is an important tool used in conservation, and that a bill Haaland supported would have overstepped science that has concluded that some species should be removed from the list.
Haaland began to answer that, if confirmed, she would work with local tribes, communities and scientists at the agency when it comes to the act.
But Barrasso interrupted her and shouted, “I’m talking about the law.”
“Sir, I will always follow the law,” she said.
The intense exchange came after committee Chairman Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, left for another meeting and let Barrasso take over chairing the hearing.
Separately, Montana Sen. Steve Daines, also a Republican, voiced his frustration with Haaland’s answers as to how she would advise the president, and Daines questioned her closely about her call to ban some semi-automatic weapons.
“Why should Congress believe that you will work to protect and expand shooting and hunting opportunities on our public lands?” he asked.
Haaland has expressed her support for banning military grade weapons in hunting but said she is a strong supporter of hunting, as she and her family practice it.
“I am a Pueblo woman. We’ve been hunting wild game for centuries,” she told Daines. “That’s the reason I’m sitting here today, because my ancestors sustained themselves through those practices.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, would run the $21 billion agency that oversees more than 450 million acres of public land. Native Americans have been strongly in support of her nomination.
Wednesday’s hearing had been extended from Tuesday, and Haaland continued to face multiple questions about the Biden administration’s plan to protect 30 percent of land and water in the U.S.
Barrasso pulled up quotes Haaland made in several media outlets opposing the use of fossil fuels and fracking. He asked about her response to how she would make up for oil and gas royalties that help fund public schools.
At the time, Haaland had said if cannabis was legalized, the taxes from those sales could help cover the royalties lost by oil and gas.
“Do you still believe that states should replace oil and gas royalties used for public education with taxes on the sale of marijuana?” he asked. “Is that your position?”
“The point of that, ranking member, was to say that we should diversify our funding streams for our education and not just rely on one,” she said.
Shortly after the hearing, Barrasso told reporters on Capitol Hill that he planned to vote against her nomination, arguing that she would cost jobs in the affordable energy market.
“She was unprepared to answer and address many of these issues, unprepared to lead a department,” he said.
Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, a freshman Democrat on the panel, congratulated Haaland on her historic nomination and said that several tribes in his state sent him letters of support for her nomination.
He told Haaland that he was concerned about how climate change is causing droughts in the West. He asked her how she would protect tribal waters and how she would make sure farmers also have access to water.
“Living in the Southwest, I understand how important water is and sometimes how little there is of it. We know that water is the lifeblood of the West and the Southwest.” she said. “It’s important for us to conserve, to think about ways we can conserve water and water recycling is one way to do that.”
Daines pressed her for what policy initiatives she would carry out, and she said that she has no plans to carry out her own agenda and that her role is to carry out the president’s agenda.
Daines also asked her to expand on the Biden administration’s goals to conserve 30 percent of U.S. land and water by 2030. Haaland said that because she was not at the department she did not have all the details, but she said Biden is hoping to include private land in that goal.
“It’s the number that scientists believe we should conserve if we want a future for our grandchildren,” she said.
A committee vote has not yet been scheduled.
Manchin disclosed after the hearing that he will vote for Haaland’s nomination.
“With respect to Representative Haaland and her confirmation hearing, while we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation’s energy independence,” he said in a statement.
“Her colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including Republican Congressman Don Young from the energy rich state of Alaska, spoke to their productive working relationship, her bipartisan accomplishments and sincere willingness to work collaboratively on important issues,” he continued.