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Rep. Haaland’s Nomination As Interior Secretary Signals 'A New Era', Say Environmental Leaders

Rep. Deb Haaland.
J. Scott Applewhite
Associated Press
In this March 5, 2020, file photo Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Native American Caucus co-chair, speaks to reporters about the 2020 Census on Capitol Hill in Washington. President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate Haaland as interior secretary.

Rep. Deb Haaland's historic nomination for interior secretary has many environmental advocates excited. They say her nomination will usher in a new age where environmental justice takes center stage.

Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico was nominated for interior secretary on Thursday night by president-elect Joe Biden. The historic pick would make Haaland the first Native American to become a cabinet secretary and hold the interior position, which involves the management of federal lands and resources.

Texas environmental advocates say Biden’s pick signals that the administration plans to prioritize environmental justice.

Following news of the nomination on Thursday, Haaland said “a voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior.”

Kevin Richardson, a DFW organizer with the Texas Campaign for the Environment, said he was “delighted” and “excited” when he first heard news of the nomination.

“It’s a historic moment to have a Native American leading the Department of the Interior but also one that’s so focused on environmental ending fossil fuel leasing on federal land and fighting climate change,” he said.

He said Haaland’s tenure in the role would be a “complete reversal” of the policies implemented by the Trump administration. Not only is Haaland expected to pull back oil drilling on federal lands, the representative doesn’t have ties to the oil and gas industry.

“I think this will be a shift towards having people who are more impartial and interested in protecting the environment, tribes and public resources in general,” he said.

Additionally, Richardson said he’s hopeful Haaland will help protect the National Forestlands in east Texas and the grasslands in North Texas, specifically the Caddo-Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands. While much of the land is under the state’s jurisdiction, he said the Department of the Interior handles oil and gas leases on these lands — meaning it would still have the authority to halt fracking efforts in these areas.

Aaryaman Singhal, the DFW organizer of the Sunrise Movement, says he also strongly supports Haaland’s nomination. It’s significant, he said, because Haaland is a leader who respects the land and will work to preserve it, while giving access and resources to indigenous people.

“We’re really excited about this pick, someone who has no fossil fuel ties and is the first indigenous woman in a cabinet post,” he said “Deb Haaland would usher in a new era of indigenous authority over soil and land.”

Singhal said Texas often faces criticism for its involvement in the oil and gas industry, but many people forget that it’s also a leader in wind and solar energy.

“Texas is such a critical state in terms of our national energy picture,” he said. “Texas is one of the states best positioned because of our wind and our sun to lead the transition into a new clean energy future.”

And with Rep. Deb Haaland as secretary of the interior, Singhal says there’s hope that the transition will be accelerated.

One of Haaland’s key responsibilities in her new position would be protecting federal lands and wildlife. Janice Bezanson, the Texas Conservation Alliance’s senior policy director, said she’s eager for Haaland to step into her new role because she’s already shown a real commitment — and boots-on-the-ground approach — to conservation.

Bezanson recalls when Haaland joined tribal leaders in 2016 at the Standing Rock Sioux’s reservation in North and South Dakota to protest the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.

“I thought it was so charming — she not only went there, she went there and brought with her tortillas and green chile stew that she had cooked herself and she opened up the trunk of her car and fed the people who were protesting this,” she said.

Looking ahead, Bezanson hopes Haaland will follow through with the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act — a bill that the representative co-sponsored and helped push through the House Natural Resources Committee.

“This is one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation before the Congress right now,” Bezanson said. It would provide ongoing funding for habitat and wildlife conservation which, she says, could mean as much as $50 million for Texas.

Got a tip? Email Elizabeth Myong at You can follow Elizabeth on Twitter @Elizabeth_Myong.

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Elizabeth Myong is KERA’s Arts Collaborative Reporter. She came to KERA from New York, where she worked as a CNBC fellow covering breaking news and politics. Before that, she freelanced as a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a modern arts reporter for Houstonia Magazine.