The freakout by the oil and gas industry and their allies in Congress over Rep. Deb Haaland’s nomination for Secretary of the Interior has begun in earnest. When Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn tweeted “Interior secretary nominee has joined pipeline protests and opposed fracking,” he certainly didn’t mean it as a compliment. Haaland’s historic nomination is already being opposed by Republican Senators Steve Daines and John Barrasso on similar grounds. 

But these critiques should be worn as a badge of honor. If  Haaland follows through on the actions these Senators are worried about, she will be the most effective Interior Secretary in recent memory. 

The mission of the Department of the Interior is to “conserve and manage the Nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage.” Unfortunately, past Interior department heads have viewed it as their mission to open up those natural resources to the oil and gas industry. Under both Obama and Trump, the department promoted the interests of the fossil fuel industry, auctioning off millions of acres of public land for oil and gas development. In four years, Trump  auctioned off 5.4 million acres  only slightly more than the nearly 5 million that were auctioned off under the second term of Obama-Biden.

While Obama moved to stop the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines near the end of his second term, those moves came too late and only after years of indigenous-led organizing and a sustained outcry from the environmental community.  

There is nothing more radical than continuing to build out fossil fuel projects when the science is clear that we need to be moving off fossil fuels to avoid climate chaos.

Representative Haaland would bring a fundamentally different approach to Interior – one that is actually in line with its mission of conservation, and recognizes the overarching need to transition our energy policy in order to avoid runaway climate chaos. The science is clear that if we want to do this, we need to transition off of fossil fuels and onto a 100% renewable energy future in the next decade. We simply cannot continue to open up more federal lands to drilling and fracking and approving new fracking infrastructure projects.

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Haaland’s detractors, mostly funded by the fossil fuel industry, call her agenda of opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline and other pipelines and fracking projects “radical.” But there is nothing more radical than continuing to build out fossil fuel projects when the science is clear that we need to be moving off fossil fuels to avoid climate chaos. 

Haaland’s opposition to fracking is about more than its awful climate impacts. As she once wrote that “fracking is a danger to the air we breathe and the water we drink.” With hundreds of well-documented studies on the health and environmental impacts of fracking, nothing could be less controversial than acknowledging fracking’s damage.

That the oil and gas industry and their toadies in Congress are attempting to torpedo Haaland’s nomination over such statements is more evidence of their radical anti-science, pro fossil fuel agenda than anything else. 

Rep Haaland’s confirmation as Interior Secretary would be groundbreaking. She would be the first Native American to hold such a post, overseeing a department that is tasked with carrying out the federal government’s treaty obligations with Indigenous tribes. She would also be the first Interior Secretary in recent years to take office with concrete commitments to fulfill the department’s mission of promoting conservation, rather than shepherding public resources to the oil and gas industry for private benefit. The Senate should act quickly to confirm her nomination, and President Biden should heed her advice in stopping fracking and related pipelines.