Feb 23, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Interior nominee Deb Haaland looks to thread the needle on oil

Illustration of an oil drum with a needle and string wrapped around it as if it were a spool.  

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden's pick for Interior secretary faces a balancing act as she defends limits on oil-and-gas development while responding to concerns that the initiatives — and her own policy views — threaten producing states.

Driving the news: Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) appears this morning before the Senate energy committee vetting her nomination and faces critical questioning from GOP members.

  • "There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come," she states in her prepared remarks.
  • "I know how important oil and gas revenues are to fund critical services," she intends to tell the panel.

But, but, but: "We must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed," her remarks note.

Haaland has called for much more aggressive steps on climate change and previously expressed opposition to fracking on public lands.

Why it matters: The careful framing of her statement to senators reflects the delicate politics of Biden's oil-and-gas and climate policies — and the key role Interior plays in some of them.

  • Biden has frozen new leasing on federal lands and waters — including Haaland's home state, which has lots of production from federal areas.

What they're saying: Administration officials have pointed to companies' stockpiles of current leases.

  • But the industry has bashed the policy on new leases and fears Interior is also making it harder to develop existing acreage, even as the agency has been emphasizing that permitting is proceeding.
  • "We...urge members of the Committee to seek assurances that Ms. Haaland will protect America’s ability to access our oil and natural gas resources," the American Exploration and Production Council, said in a statement.

What we’re watching: Haaland could play a role in determining whether a contentious copper-nickel mine moves forward in northeastern Minnesota.

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