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Mitt Romney, Mike Lee vote against Biden’s interior secretary nominee

New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland is the first Native American in presidential Cabinet

SHARE Mitt Romney, Mike Lee vote against Biden’s interior secretary nominee
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Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M. and nominee to be interior secretary, speaks during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 23, 2021. On Monday, the Senate confirmed her as interior secretary.

Jim Watson, Associated Press

Utah’s two Republican senators voted against the confirmation Monday of Rep. Deb Haaland as interior secretary, the first Native American to become a member of the Cabinet in U.S. history.

Only four Republicans joined all Senate Democrats present in the 51-40 vote confirming Haaland.

“Based on Rep. Haaland’s record and views on land management and energy resources, including her support for radical policies like the Green New Deal, I am not able to support her confirmation to lead the Interior Department,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said in a statement.

The progressive New Mexico Democrat faced stiff opposition from Republicans who fear her anti-fossil fuel activism will hurt their state economies as she helps to develop President Joe Biden’s ambitious climate change strategy, according to Politico. The Interior Department oversees one-fifth of U.S. lands, including a large share of the country’s oil, gas and minerals production.

Romney sat down with Haaland before her confirmation to talk about the recent temporary suspension of federal energy leases and concerns regarding the administration’s intent to assert greater federal control over public lands. Both would be detrimental to Utah, he said.

“We also discussed the ongoing review of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument designations, and I reiterated the delegation’s preference for a permanent legislative solution that provides certainty and reflects state, local, and tribal input.

In a meeting with senior Interior officials last week, Utah’s all-Republican congressional delegation reiterated their concerns that the Biden administration’s review may result in further unilateral executive action, which will not resolve long-standing boundary or access issues.

“Though I did not vote for Secretary Haaland, I am ready to work with her and the Biden administration on finding legislative solutions to the land issues impacting Utah,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said after the confirmation vote.

Lee asked interior secretary nominee Haaland during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last month whether she believes local communities should have a role in national monument decisions.

“I think with national monument designations, of course, it’s folks on the ground, stakeholders, everyone deserves to have a say in those,” she said.

Lee said in the hearing 28% of the land designated as national monuments in 40 states over the past 25 years is in Utah. Bears Ears and Grand Staircase added together are “larger than two Delawares.”

Haaland said she’s jealous of the beautiful land in Utah and that she has visited Bears Ears. Lee interjected that the monument designation doesn’t make the land more beautiful.

“It does tend to make the communities that don’t support them impoverished, and that’s what concerns me,” Lee said.

GOP leaders in Utah contend that national monuments have become a “political football” tossed back and forth between parties.

Under the Antiquities Act, President Bill Clinton created the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 and President Barack Obama designated the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears in 2016. President Donald Trump slashed Grand Staircase-Escalante to 1 million acres and broke Bears Ears into two separate areas totaling 228,700 acres in 2017 by the same law.

Conservation and environmental groups lauded Haaland’s confirmation.

Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said Utah’s public lands suffered significant damage under the “mismanagement” of the Trump administration.

“As the first Native American to head the Department of Interior and a Westerner, Secretary Haaland is uniquely positioned to understand the importance of restoring Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments, protecting cultural resources from the impacts of off-road vehicle use, and establishing a forward-looking, science-oriented approach to the stewardship of wild public lands,” he said in a statement.

Haaland’s experiences are critical to reorienting the Interior Department toward people, indigenous rights and climate-focused, science-based conservation, said Chris Hill, acting director of Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. 

“We look forward to seeing our country’s lands and waters integrated with efforts to increase outdoors equity, mitigate climate impacts by protecting 30% of lands and water by 2030, and foster healthier communities,” he said in a statement.

Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said Haaland made history as America’s first Indigenous Cabinet secretary, calling her confirmation, a “landmark that’s more than 200 years overdue.”

Haaland is the right person to lead America’s transition to a renewable energy future, she said.

“The tasks ahead are enormous, but Deb Haaland knows the role America’s lands must play in stopping climate change, addressing the biodiversity crisis, and preparing communities for the next 200 years,” Rokala said in a statement.