Congresswoman Deb Haaland, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for the Interior Secretary, speaks after Biden announced her nomination among another round of nominees and appointees for his administration in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., December 19, 2020. Credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Montana U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, along with more than a dozen other House Republicans, want President Joe Biden to withdraw his nominee to lead the Department of the Interior, saying she poses a threat to the natural resource and fossil fuel industries. 

If confirmed, Rep. Deb Haaland, D-NM, would become the first Indigenous person to hold the role. The massive department has a broad range of responsibilities, not only overseeing tribal lands and programs, but also managing national parks, federal lands and natural resources. 

The nomination has been hailed by tribal leaders as a positive step toward improved relations between tribes and the federal government, but was met with concern from the fossil fuel industry and at least some GOP House members, including Rosendale. 

While the House of Representatives doesn’t play a role in the confirmation process, Rosendale and 14 other GOP members of the House signed a Jan. 26 letter asking Biden withdraw her nomination because of her stances on issues like banning oil and gas leasing on federal lands and her support of the Green New Deal, a broad set of goals championed by some progressive lawmakers to address climate change and its impacts. 

“Nominating Representative Haaland is a direct threat to working men and women and a rejection of responsible development of America’s natural resources,” the letter said. 

Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo citizen, has supported the Green New Deal, and has also said she opposes hydraulic fracking and favors Indigenous rights over resource extraction. She has also said she’d prefer to stop oil and gas leasing on federal lands.

Even so, the letter cites overblown claims that the Green New Deal would completely eliminate air transportation and non-electric vehicles at a cost of “$93 trillion annually.” The Green New Deal does not seek to completely end transportation via airplane or non-electric vehicles. It calls for limiting transportation-generated greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible. And the letter overstates the estimated cost of the Green New Deal by a factor of 10, citing a price tag from the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, that predicted the cost of the plan at $51 to $93 trillion over ten years.

In addition, economists have said it’s too early, and difficult, to assign specific costs to the Green New Deal, since it exists only as a broad set of goals, not specific policy proposals. 

In response to questions about Rosendale’s decision to sign the letter, spokesman Harry Fones said Tuesday that the administration’s actions — like Biden’s decision to cancel a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a decision all members of the state’s federal delegation opposed — are a sign of what to expect under a Biden administration with Haaland leading the Interior Department. Biden has also placed a moratorium on leasing federal lands and water for oil and gas development

“We have already seen troubling actions from the Biden administration,” Fones said. 

To be confirmed, Haaland will need to survive a hearing of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee before a final confirmation vote by the full Senate. A hearing date has not been set. Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines is a member of the committee.

Katie Schoettler, a Daines spokeswoman, didn’t say whether the senator shares similar concerns about Haaland, but said he is planning to meet with her this week.  

Haaland has already met with Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. Tester’s office said in a press release that during their Jan. 19 meeting the two discussed protecting Montana’s public lands, supporting jobs that rely on forests and public access and upholding trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal nations. They also talked about implementation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, passing and implementing tribal water compacts, and the state’s missing and murdered Indigenous people problem. 

Tester’s office didn’t say whether he supports the nomination. 

“Congresswoman Haaland and I had a productive conversation today about her commitment to protecting Montana’s public lands and the jobs they create, and meeting federal responsibilities to Tribal nations,” Tester said in the press release. “If Congresswoman Haaland is confirmed, I will work closely with her to tackle the many challenges we face, including improving how we prepare for and fight wildfires, ensuring that Tribes, folks on the ground, and local governments have a say in land management, and making sure the Land and Water Conservation Fund works for Montana.”

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Chris covers Native American issues as a Report for America Corps member based in Billings. He also monitors the Montana Supreme Court, federal courts and criminal justice issues. Before joining MTFP in 2020, Chris most recently covered tribal affairs and Wyoming's Wind River Reservation for the Casper Star-Tribune, and has also reported for the Wisconsin State Journal. Contact Chris at caadland@montanafreepress.org, 406-465-3386 ext. 4, and follow @cjaadland on Twitter.