House Republicans slam Haaland in tense hearing

By Kelsey Brugger | 04/19/2023 01:20 PM EDT

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland made her first appearance before the House Natural Resources Committee this year.

Deb Haaland.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland appearing before the House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday. Francis Chung/POLITICO

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s appearance before the House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday morning was her toughest hearing yet this year, with Republicans eager to question her about the Biden administration’s energy agenda.

Questioning got so heated at one point that Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who was siting in for Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) during a portion of the hearing, called a recess so tempers could cool.

Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.), chair of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, rebuked Haaland about the administration’s decision to ban new mining near the the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.


Stauber said Haaland had “no idea” what she was doing when her department issued the “ill-informed decision,” which he said “has left the U.S. more dependent on China.”

Ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) objected to any member “berating” the secretary. Haaland, during her time in Congress, served on Natural Resources with Grijalva as chair.

The Minnesota Republican argued that his comments were simply passionate and demanded that Grijalva’s remark be struck from the record.

Haaland has testified before House and Senate appropriators in recent weeks. Her appearance before the increasingly partisan Natural Resources Committee was expected to generate fireworks.

“From day one, DOI has shut down pipelines, delayed federally mandated onshore and offshore leases, repealed commonsense [Endangered Species Act] and [National Environmental Policy Act] streamlining regulations, shuttered mining projects and much more,” Westerman said.

He added: “No federal agency should be cloaked in mystery, particularly when it comes to spending Americans’ hard-earned dollars.”

Republicans promised to ramp up scrutiny of national park maintenance funding, the permitting process and the Biden administration’s “war on the American economy.”

Westerman claimed Interior has failed to respond to 80 percent of oversight requests.

Haaland promised multiple lawmakers she would visit their districts or dispatch her staff to bring their local concerns to the highest level.

She assured Rep. Jerry Carl (R-Ala.) that her staff would call him back about a metallurgical coal project he claimed was 98 percent completed.

Haaland told Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.) she would look into Inflation Reduction Act funding the department allocated to fix up the Presidio of San Francisco, a national park in the district of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The federal lands subcommittee held a hearing on that topic Tuesday (E&E Daily, April 19).

And she told Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) she would look into littering and looting at the Bears Ears National Monument, whose original boundaries President Joe Biden restored.

“I absolutely appreciate your comments,” Haaland said. “I will absolutely take those to heart and have discussions with my staff.”

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle questioned Haaland on the controversial approval of the Willow oil and gas project in Alaska, capping orphan wells, offshore wind and a proposed regulation that has been described as a “seismic shift” in the department’s approach to conservation and could have repercussions for clean energy (Greenwire, March 31).

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Haaland said of the energy transition. “We take that very seriously.”

Democrats also argued that Republicans’ proposed budget cuts would have devastating impacts on the department’s activities. Those include renewable energy permits, water infrastructure and wildfire management.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), a moderate, pointed to Endangered Species Act consultations during the permitting process as a reason more funding is needed from Congress. She called this “a goal we all have.”