Rep. Deb Haaland just finished a historic confirmation hearing to run the Department of Interior. If her nomination is pushed through committee, she will in all likelihood be confirmed as the first Indigenous person to ever serve on a presidential cabinet.
If confirmed, Haaland would be in charge of more than 500 million acres of federal land. There are a variety of things the secretary of the interior oversees, including national parks, recreation, wilderness areas, wildfire management, and more. All valid areas for senators on the Energy and Natural Resources committee to ask Haaland about. If she’s appointed, it would also open the door to repairing centuries of injustices done to tribes and the dispossession of their lands and neglect of services provided through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Understanding her views on how to fix multiple broken systems serving Indigenous communities is also crucial.
The Department of Interior also oversees federal oil and gas drilling leases. And it certainly stands to reason that her hearing would at least, in part, focus on it. But Republicans have obsessed over oil and gas drilling and pipelines in their lines of questioning, all but ignoring the other aspects of the role.
Among the questions they’ve asked is one from Sen. John Barrasso, the ranking chairman on the committee, about Haaland’s support during her 2018 campaign for the House end oil and gas production and make up for lost royalty revenue by legalizing weed, creating a one-two boogeyman punch. (For the record, both winding down fossil fuel extraction and legalizing cannabis are both very popular, according to Data for Progress polling.) Then there’s Sen. John Hoeve, who asked why Haaland would go to Standing Rock to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. (For the record, tribal leaders weren’t properly consulted nor did they consent to the pipeline, which was one of the key points of contention that gave rise to the protest.) Sen. Bill Cassidy, who referred to the Biden administration’s “politically driven, non-science agenda” of putting a temporary halt of oil and gas leasing. (For the record, oil and gas extraction is scientifically incompatible with a habitable planet.)
Many Republicans also invoked oil and gas workers and communities near extraction sites that provide services. Which is fair—we should be talking with those communities and workers about how to preserve their livelihoods and the planet. But there’s another important constituency Republicans members of the committee have assiduously failed to mention: The Big Oil donors who have pitched in millions to committee members’ campaigns. Campaign finance data from Open Secrets shows the committee received a collective $4.6 million in oil and gas money in the 2020 election cycle, and 87% of that money has flowed to Republicans.
Barrasso, the anti-weed, pro-drilling ranking member, received $584,487. Sen. Steve Daines, who has said in a press release ahead of the hearing that he was “deeply concerned” about Haaland’s “radical views,” raked in $631,551 for the 2020 election cycle. (For comparison, Daines praised Trump’s nominees—an oil state representative and a fossil fuel lobbyist—about how tribes would be lucky to have them, but didn’t ask a single question or offer any praise for what Haaland would mean for tribes despite being a member of the Laguna Pueblo.) Cassidy pulled in $592,327 from the industry. You can get the gist in the graph above (which doesn’t include Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper due to data not being immediately available).
Research shows that oil and gas donors give to politicians who do their bidding. And it appears they’re getting their money’s worth in this hearing. Republicans on the committee have collectively received more than $4 million from the industry and have spent their question time largely pushing unfounded claims and red herrings. Democrats and the two Independents who caucus with them on the committee have received $587,122 from the industry. Most of that ($200,445 to be exact) went to West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin, the chairman and Democrat most likely to hold up Haaland’s nomination based on his public statements. Ironically, though, Haaland’s nomination could also hinge on the vote of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the biggest oil and gas recipient on the list who also has strong ties to the Alaska Native community.
As Haaland’s hearing wraps up, we’ll have to wait to see how the committee votes on her nomination. But no matter how many Republicans invoke workers in their reasons against (or possibly for) voting to advance Haaland’s nomination to the Senate floor, it’s important to keep in mind the subtext of who they’re actually beholden to.