Interior Secretary Deb Haaland faced lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday as she advocated for an $18 billion budget increase for her department next year. The money would go towards advancing renewable energy projects, expanding wildland fire programs and boosting public safety on reservations.
But questions from senators on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee went far beyond the scope of her budget. They grilled Haaland on everything from endangered grizzly bears to her department’s review of oil and gas drilling.
Interior is mulling a ban on new oil and gas drilling on federal lands as well as upping royalty rates on fossil fuel projects. The review was supposed to be made public in early summer and Republicans voiced frustration that it was taking so long.
“None of us know what your answer is,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “I hope you can understand the frustration that so many of us have in anticipating this.”
Haaland told senators the review is in its final stages and should be released “very soon.”
She also faced repeated questions from the GOP regarding President Biden’s controversial pick to head the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees public lands in the West and is under the umbrella of Interior. Tracy Stone-Manning is a former Democratic staffer who has faced intense criticism from Republicans over her ties to an alleged ecoterrorism case in the 1990’s.
At one point during the hearing, Haaland appeared exasperated by the Republicans’ repeated questions about Stone-Manning.
“I didn’t nominate her,” Haaland said. “I’m here to move the department forward on the president’s priorities and that’s what I’m focused on at the moment.”
The Senate voted along party lines to push Stone-Manning’s nomination forward on Tuesday. A final vote is expected Wednesday.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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