Deb Haaland’s confirmation hearing was embarrassing to watch

Republicans prostrated themselves at the altar of fossil fuels in a deeply sad way — and perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. For many, the industry is far and away their largest donor

Jamie Henn
Washington DC
Wednesday 24 February 2021 12:27 GMT
Republican calls Deb Haaland 'divisive' at Senate confirmation hearing for Department of Interior
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The Republican Party’s fealty to their donors in the fossil fuel industry was on full display today during Representative Deb Haaland’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of the Interior.

The GOP members of the Senate Energy Committee showed little interest in the historic nature of appointing the first ever Native American cabinet secretary. Instead, they used the hearing as an opportunity to prove their loyalty to Big Oil.

Whether it was trotting out false job numbers on the Keystone XL pipeline, lying about how President Biden’s drilling pause on public lands would decimate state economies, or making the bogus claim that increasing US oil and gas production was good for the climate, Republican Senators did everything they could to prostrate themselves at the altar of fossil fuels.

Watching the hearings this morning, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see these same Republicans bathe themselves in oil or drink a glass of fracking fluid to demonstrate the full extent of their passion. Clearly, repeating the industry’s favorite talking points verbatim was more their love language.

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To be fair, the Senators do owe a lot to fossil fuels. According to data compiled on Open Secrets, in just the last five years, Republican members of the Senate Energy Committee have solicited more than $4 million in direct campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. For many of them, the industry is far and away their largest donor. And there’s a good reason these donors are quaking at the prospect of Rep. Haaland as Secretary of Interior. As Senator Cantwell (D-WA) told Haaland at the hearing, “I almost feel like your nomination is this proxy fight about the future of fossil fuels.” 

For their part, fossil fuel CEOs would prefer to stick with the past. Over the last four years, the industry has become comfortable with its unrestricted ability to pillage our public lands for profit. Trumpgutted national monuments and opened up millions of acres of public lands for fossil fuel development, more than any previous administration. In doing so, he allowed the industry to purchase drilling and mining leases for pennies on the dollar. The Interior Secretary that Haaland will be replacing, David Bernhardt, was himself a fossil fuel lobbyist, while his acting Bureau of Land Management director, William Perry Pendley, was a pro-fossils climate denier, as well as an accused racist

While their control of the Interior Department helped enrich the fossil fuel industry’s CEOs, it did little to help workers and communities. The coal industry continued itsinexorable decline under the Trump administration. Fracking companies continued to go bankrupt, their executives making off with the winnings as they left the rest of us to clean up their mess. Even with Trump in office, it was renewable energy that proved to be the real job creator in the energy sector. 

Secretary of Interior Rep. Haaland can help turbocharge this just transition away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy that works for all. That transition will benefit all Americans, but it will especially help communities that have long been trapped in the boom-and-bust cycle of the fossil fuel economy. The Biden administration’s plans to transition the United States to100 percent clean electricity by 2035 — and the steps it is taking to get us there — will pump billions of dollars into these communities and create millions of good-paying, stable, union jobs for workers in the energy sector. Programs like a new Civilian Conservation Corps can give hope to the millions of young people who see no prospects for a career in oil and gas

None of this will please fossil fuel CEOs, or many of the politicians they fund, but Haaland’s track record of working across the aisle suggests that she may be able to cultivate allies in unexpected places.In the words of Julian Brave NoiseCat, Vice President of Policy and Strategy at Data for Progress, “Deb Haaland has been a uniquely savvy and popular figure. Haaland might actually be the only politician in America who can claim that she has the support of left-wing groups, like the Sunrise Movement and the Justice Democrats, and Congressional Republicans like Tom Cole and Don Young.” 

Rep. Haaland’s unique character was on full display during today’s hearing as she calmly listened to Senators like Utah’s Mike Lee mansplain to her about the “ownership” of public lands. She has pledged to be a “fierce advocate” for Native Americans, public lands and our climate. And she is now well-positioned to help the Biden administration “build back fossil free” and support the rights of Indigenous peoples who are fighting dangerous fossil fuel projects like the Line 3 and Dakota Access pipelines. 

That might be bad news for fossil fuel CEOs, but it’s great news for the rest of us.

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