Axios Pro Exclusive Content

Haaland's new Hill fights

headshot
Mar 29, 2023
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland

Haaland appears before Senate appropriators. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is facing a new set of challenges on the Hill after her agency approved the controversial Willow oil project in Alaska.

Why it matters: Haaland’s committee appearances this week previewed the next several months of Interior policy — and the fights that will play out during appropriations season.

Here are three things you need to know:

🚦Alaska's next frontier: Republicans grilled Haaland on a longstanding debate about building a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge— sure to be one of the Alaska delegation’s next big fights with the Biden administration.

Context: Shortly after Interior signed off on Willow, Haaland announced the agency would withdraw from a land exchange approved during the Trump administration.

  • It would have allowed a road through the refuge to connect the community of King Cove to an airport.
  • The action helped appease green groups concerned about the region’s delicate ecology — but it has further inflamed the agency’s relationship with Republicans and Alaskans.

What they’re saying: Native Alaskan residents of King Cove experiencing medical emergencies have to be medevacked, a point Sen. Lisa Murkowski raised repeatedly Wednesday morning at the Senate Appropriations Committee.

  • Haaland wouldn't guarantee a new land exchange to build a road, but said Interior is “committed to ensuring that the people of King Cove can once and for all find a solution.”
  • “We don’t have the luxury of time,” Murkowski replied. “So the promise to just keep us informed, in my view, is not satisfactory.”

🛢️ Leasing futures: Haaland offered an abbreviated preview of the administration’s delayed five-year leasing plan for offshore oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico and on Alaska’s coast.

  • “We expect the final plan out in September, and after the required review period, it will be effective in December,” Haaland told House Appropriations lawmakers Tuesday.

What we’re watching: Haaland wouldn't say how many lease sales the agency might hold, but that will be a point of contention for Republicans — and Joe Manchin — moving forward.

  • Interior last year issued a draft strategy that considered options ranging from no new lease sales to as many as 11.
  • “I can't essentially pre-decide what the five-year plan will say,” Haaland told House lawmakers.

Of note: Haaland’s messaging emphasized Interior’s role in the energy transition, particularly its efforts to hold lease sales to meet President Biden’s goal of developing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030.

💰 Workforce, money: Interior, like EPA, is asking Congress for more money and people to administer IRA programs and move environmental permits more quickly.

  • They won't get it from the GOP House, but it’s an issue that’s going to keep surfacing as lawmakers discuss a potential permitting bill, as we told you last week.

Sen. Deb Fischer singled out Interior’s budget request for $171 million — a $50 million boost — for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work on environmental permits and the Endangered Species Act.

  • Specifically, Fischer said she opposes the agency’s proposal to transfer money doled out in the IIJA to work on permits.
  • “I voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and I voted for it to build infrastructure, not to fund federal government permitting,” Fischer said.

Our thought bubble: The exchange was indicative of fights to come. Progressives argue that agencies need more funding to move energy project permits more efficiently.

Go deeper