|The selection of
Deb Haaland for secretary of the interior is a hard-earned and jubilant
win for progressives, who have otherwise been disappointed by the
Biden transition team.
IMAGES FOR GREEN NEW DEAL NETWORK
New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haalanda citizen
of the Laguna Pueblo nation, and among the first class of Native
women elected to Congress in 2018will reportedly be nominated
by the Biden administration to lead the Department of Interior.
The agency tasked with overseeing the countrys public lands
and natural resources has long contained the Bureau of Indian
Affairs but has never been headed by a Native person. Nor, for
that matter, has it ever been led by an open critic of fossil
More than 131 organizationsincluding the Indigenous Environmental
Network, the Center for Biological Diversity, the NDN Collective,
the Native Organizers Alliance, and the Sunrise Movementsent
a letter earlier this month to the Biden team urging Haalands
selection, which even earned support in recent days from House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi. Several celebrities and Haalands colleagues
in the House joined in, as well. Julian Brave Noisecat, vice president
of policy and strategy at the think tank and polling shop Data for
Progress, had pushed for Haalands nomination for months, both
in the press and behind the scenes, well before Biden clinched the
The Biden transition team has bucked progressive suggestions in
many other picks. But in this case, it appears, progressive energies
were well directed.
The Interior Department is massively important for the climate
fight. Drilling on public lands is responsible for roughly a quarter
of domestic fossil fuel emissions. The Interior Department could
also oversee the siting of massive amounts of renewable energy in
the coming years. Accordingly, interior secretary is a job thats
traditionally been handed to shameless boosters of oil and gas interests,
from Obama appointee Ken Salazarwho went on to lobby for the
fossil fuel industry postWhite Houseto David Bernhardt,
the Trump administration appointee who has spent most of his career
as an attorney and lobbyist for the oil and gas industry.
Haaland, however, has been critical of endless fossil fuel expansion
since she first ran for Congress, and was one of the first congressional
co-sponsors of the Green New Deal resolution introduced by Alexandria
Ocasio-Cortez. (She still, to note, faces whats likely to
be a brutal confirmation process should Republicans retain control
of the Senate in Georgias runoff elections early next year.)
Interior secretaries have also traditionally had tense relationships
with tribal nations. As NDN Collective President and CEO Nick Tilsen
wrote in a statement about todays news, Haalands
appointment gives us a voice in a Department that has long been
responsible for our exploitation.
That there would be alignment on a Department of Interior pick
between green and Native groups might seem self-evident at this
point, but was hardly inevitable. U.S. conservation groups have
a long and ugly history on the subject of indigenous rights. Protecting
natureincluding for national parksoften came at the
exclusion of tribes that had managed the same land for generations.
The solidarity between indigenous organizers and more mainstream
green groups that bore fruit in the Interior Department selection
was forged in large part through years of struggles against fossil
fuel pipelines, led by tribes whose land those projects threatened.
Haaland herself, as Noisecat pointed out in a recent Politico piece,
cooked food for those who joined the encampment at Standing Rock
when she traveled there in 2016, while she was running the New Mexico
Standing Rock was a pivotal moment in what turned into a convergence
of indigenous and environmental interests. It drew veterans from
the American Indian Movement, and who had waged fights for sovereignty
at Pine Ridge and on Alcatraz Island. Since then, calls to give
back stolen land have crossed into the mainstream. Likewise, Standing
Rock drew attention to the vast network of fossil fuel infrastructure
crisscrossing North America. Climate advocates were in many ways
newcomers to demands to halt extraction and restore sovereignty
voiced in battles against the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
Those fights then brought a fresh generation of young people into
a climate movement newly willingafter years of difficult,
ongoing conversationsto put issues of justice and corporate
excess front and center.
Haalands selection comes weeks into a largely uninspiring
month of transition news. Though its a far cry from Obamas
transition-period embrace of longtime deficit hawks and Wall Street
faithfuls, itd be hard to argue that Bidens is a broadly
progressive Cabinet. His foreign policy team is flanked by people
who have cashed checks from defense contractors and egged on conflicts
abroad. Tom Vilsackthe former agriculture secretary Biden
picked to take his old job, after years as a lobbyist for Big Agwon
out over Marcia Fudge, to whom Biden bizarrely handed the Department
of Housing and Urban Development. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete
Buttigieg wasnt any progressives first choice to head
the Department of Transportation. Blackrock executives will take
top spots, too.
Yet the administrations top posts for climate and environmental
concerns seem to show a clear if uneven acknowledgment that the
climate movementfrom its rowdy activists to well-connected
think tankersis a force to be reckoned with. Bidens
team created two Cabinet-level climate positions from scratch, handing
international and domestic climate posts to John Kerry and Gina
McCarthy, respectively. Michael Regan, touting a relatively uncontroversial
record running North Carolinas Department of Environmental
Quality, will become the first Black man to run the Environmental
Protection Agency, after California Air Resources Board head Mary
Nicholss potential nomination was called out by her states
climate and environmental justice groups. Brenda Mallory is slated
to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality. And while
former Department of Energy head and current fossil fuel ally Ernest
Moniz was long thought to be a front-runner for his old job, Biden
will reportedly hand it to former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.
In the past months, the American left has faced criticism from
the center over being too critical of the incoming administration.
The message that seems to be emerging from this week, however, is
that lots of organized people loudly and consistently pushing for
what they want from a Democratic administration can yield results,
if not always the ones said people might hope for. Haalandjudging
from reactions to the news todayseems to be the first appointment
climate progressives are unambiguously excited about. The fact that
she was selected at all seems to be an endorsement for the Democratic
Partys progressive wing to continue holding the Biden teams
feet to the fire as the world warms.
Kate Aronoff is a staff writer at The New Republic.