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Confirmation of Haaland as Secretary of the Interior Highlights Potential Reach of Biden Administration’s "All-of-Government" Pursuit of Environmental and Climate Justice Objectives

March 16, 2021

On Monday, March 15, 2021, the U.S. Senate confirmed Representative Debra Haaland (D-New Mexico) as Secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native American to be appointed to any presidential cabinet. Haaland’s confirmation serves as another example of Biden’s all-of-government approach to addressing climate change and environmental justice. Haaland, who previously chaired the House Natural Resources subcommittee, and her supporters have touted her history of championing climate and environmental justice issues, particularly in connection with indigenous populations. For example, throughout her most recent congressional campaign, Haaland advocated for, in her view, the interconnected nature of indigenous rights and “climate justice,” and pledged to fight to “keep fossil fuels in the ground.” Likewise, while in Congress, Haaland introduced environmental-justice legislation that sought to increase access to public lands for communities of color.

As Secretary of the Interior, Haaland will now lead the executive department in charge of overseeing federal land use policy, including access to, and the management and development of, public lands and minerals. Her pick as Secretary was no coincidence—as we summarized previously, through E.O. 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, President Biden directed that all “[a]gencies shall make achieving environmental justice part of their missions,” an objective the now-confirmed Haaland seems eager to tackle. President Biden has already directed the Department of the Interior to pause the issuance of new leases for oil and gas on federal lands and offshore waters to the extent possible under applicable law, and to review the department’s permitting and leasing practices for fossil fuels in order to, among other things, assess the potential climate impacts of oil and gas activities on public lands.  Given her career history, it should be expected that Secretary Haaland will advocate strongly in support of the Administration’s stated objectives of confronting environmental, economic, racial and social inequities.

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