Would-be Interior Secretary Heinrich lays out his vision

By Jennifer Yachnin | 10/09/2020 01:30 PM EDT

New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich has a few recommendations for the next denizen of the White House: It’s time to overhaul the Interior Department and how the nation manages its public lands.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) could be tapped to lead the Department of the Interior if Joe Biden wins the presidential election next month.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) could be tapped to lead the Department of the Interior if Joe Biden wins the presidential election next month. Francis Chung/E&E News

New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich has a few recommendations for the next denizen of the White House: It’s time to overhaul the Interior Department and how the nation manages its public lands.

The Democrat — who is widely viewed as a potential pick for Interior secretary should Democratic nominee Joe Biden defeat President Trump next month — outlined his vision yesterday during an event hosted by the Outdoor Industry Association.

Heinrich called for a "national outdoor recreation plan" and described an Interior agency focused more on climate change than on extractive industry.


"We need a presidential administration to have a modern vision for public land management that’s really rooted in conservation and solving the climate crisis and very aware of the needs of all our recreation partners," Heinrich said during the event, promoted as "The 2020 Election and Beyond: What’s at stake for the outdoor recreation economy? A conversation with Senator Martin Heinrich."

The New Mexico lawmaker lamented that both Interior and the Forest Service continue to operate under "foundational laws" created to emphasize beef production, timber harvesting or ore extraction, arguing the modern economy "needs very different things."

"Given the desire of Americans for outdoor recreation, environmental justice, climate solutions, the preservation of biodiversity, clean water and rural economic development, we really need to reorientate the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service toward those objectives," he added. "The mission of public land management should really be focused on serving the American public and safeguarding the values that deliver all of those public benefits."

While Heinrich said his proposed overhaul of Interior and the Forest Service, which operates under the Department of Agriculture, could be largely achieved via the executive branch, he also envisions congressional involvement.

"I think it’s an enormous opportunity," Heinrich said. "I certainly wouldn’t wait until legislation passes to work on really orienting those two agencies toward outdoor recreation, but at the same time I do think it’s important that we have some legislative vehicles that also create bipartisan buy-in."

Heinrich also revealed he is drafting legislation to address equity in outdoor recreation, praising a program in his home state as an example of what he would like to pursue.

"We have real work ahead of us to make sure that every single American, regardless of their race or their ZIP code or the size of their wallet, can find the same sense of belonging in our public lands and outdoor spaces," Heinrich said.

He later added: "We are in conversations right now with a whole range of groups to figure out what that would look like and to draft legislation to do just that."

Climate is everywhere

Heinrich noted he’d like to see any future Democratic administration aggressively address climate change policy.

"If there’s one thing this administration has taught us, is that an executive administration really does have power," Heinrich said.

"While some of their decisions certainly haven’t withstood the court system, they were not afraid to make changes," he added. "I think we need to utilize this next administration to really put climate into all sorts of things across the economy and think about every agency in the U.S. government and what climate solutions are available to all of those agencies, whether you’re talking about Department of Defense or the Department of Energy or the Department of Interior."

As an example, Heinrich criticized the Trump administration for having "bottlenecked" offshore wind energy production.

"That’s something that without any legislation the next administration can solve and can change," he said. "I think there are a lot of different places where we can make a really rapid response to climate."

Other contenders

E&E News reported last month that fellow New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall is near the top of the short list of potential Interior nominees if Biden wins the White House.

Other would-be Cabinet officials being considered include Heinrich as well as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) (Greenwire, Sept. 9).

Yesterday evening, Udall and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) — another potential contender — participated in a virtual roundtable with New Mexico student environmental activists to discuss their "30×30" proposal, which would set a national goal of protecting at least 30% of the United States’ lands and oceans by 2030 (E&E Daily, Oct. 23, 2019).

The two lawmakers have a close working relationship — they are their respective chambers’ lead sponsors of resolutions expressing support for "30×30," S.Res. 372 and H.Res. 835.

They also have mutual appreciation for each other. Udall closed out last night’s roundtable by praising Haaland, unsolicited.

"She led the Democratic Party in our state, which is a very, very tough job. You have [4,000] or 5,000 people in the party who think they can lead the party better than you," Udall said. "She did that with such grace and commitment, and then she ran … on the ticket [for] lieutenant governor, and she didn’t quite get there, and she didn’t give up, and the next time she ran for Congress, and now she sits there as [one of the] first Native American wom[en] in the United States Congress.

"She’s too humble," he added.

A few weeks earlier, Haaland had told E&E News that, in her bid for vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, she was considering the importance of ensuring Udall’s environmental advocacy on Capitol Hill continues in his retirement (E&E Daily, Oct. 6).

"He’s been .. such an amazing, strong voice for the environment. We need to fill his shoes here. We need to carry on the work that Sen. Udall has been a champion for for so long. We’ll strive to keep those issues moving forward," said Haaland.

But when asked whether she might also consider being Interior secretary if asked, Haaland conceded she’d seen her name floated in the press and replied, "I’d never close the door on any opportunity; we’ll see what happens."

Reporter Emma Dumain contributed.