By: Emily Muniz

For too long, the secretary of the interior has been an agent of unjust extraction. The appointment of Deb Haaland offers a promising start to re-writing this historic narrative. The way the government uses federal land is about to change. With Haaland’s recent appointment to Interior Secretary , the treatment of indigenous people is about to change. She will also serve as the chair of Native American Affairs, a position created under the Obama administration with the goal to “provide improved coordination of Federal programs and the use of resources available to Tribal communities”. As a key liaison, Haaland will lead inter-agency collaboration to ensure equitable policies regarding Indian affairs. Trump’s crippling administrative orders promoting fossil fuels are about to change. Deb Haaland is bringing change. And it’s about time. 

Under the Trump administration (and for long before then), public land has been seen as a resource to be exploited. While the debate over the ethical use of natural resources may never conclude, it is without argument that the fossil fuel extraction that occurs on public lands is THE lead contributor to natural gas emissions that promote climate change. As climate change worsens due to increased emissions from extraction industries, health in frontline communities everywhere worsens. Change, which is well within the reach of the Interior Secretary, is needed or else federal land will continue to be used to poison the American people and the planet. 

The Secretary of the Interior heads the Department of the Interior and is responsible for the management of federal lands and waters- whether that be National Parks, coastal waters, etc. While historically focused on areas in the western United States, this position represents the nationwide devotion to stewardship through science. One of the most important components of the job description that has been heinously ignored until recently, is the secretary’s duty to managing Native American relations. 

After her 53 predecessors, Deb Haaland is the first Native American to serve as secretary of the interior. Her role in the federal government grants her responsibility to look after federal land and natural resources. She has already been active in indigenous affairs, serving as both the chair of Democratic Party of NM Native caucus and the vote director for Native Americans in Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. 

Haaland promises to be fierce for all of us, which she has already shown in her recent visit to Bears Ears National Monument, where she plans to address historic environmental injustices by giving Biden all necessary information to “get this right” in regard to restoring protections of the sacred indigenous land that were stripped under Trump. 

So, with her indigenous background, experience, and the immense power her title carries, Haaland is in the perfect position to carry out Biden’s campaign promise to ban new permits for gas and oil production on public lands. 

The current tale of a country priding itself on its “energy dominance”, does not tell of the immense harm fossil fuels bring to communities everywhere; from the devastating wildfires in California, to the rising sea levels displacing Virginia coastal communities, the effect of fossil fuels cannot be escaped and burdens everyone, everywhere. How these burdens are addressed varies drastically dependent on where the land is. Policies in the eastern US, for example are not governed the same as the western BLM lands, leaving land management on the eastern side of the country more vulnerable in some ways. Time and time again, CCAN has held local policymakers accountable by urging them to promote legislation, pass bills, protect land from pipelines and utilities, and back overall efforts promoting the fight against climate change. 

Deb Haaland just took another huge step with her directive to revoke orders issued under the Trump administration that promoted fossil fuel use and development on federal land and waters. With this, she issued an additional directive to federal agencies that will put climate change at the forefront of agency decisions. This means finally putting the well-being of the planet and people most susceptible to the effects of climate change first. This is part of a larger effort to restore natural carbon sinks, meaning that these orders rebuke the notion that drilling is permissible on public lands. Fossil fuel development will likely face a steep decrease in the coming month/ years due to these actions, which will strengthen community resistance to climate change and pave the way for clean energy to replace fossil fuels. 

Haaland’s deliberate shift away from fossil fuel promotion at the federal level is huge, and can propel our fight at the local level to keep natural gases out of frontline communities. We can utilize the new federal initiative to ensure state governments follow Haaland’s lead in their land-use choices and fossil fuel divestment. In Maryland, there is a push for No New Fossil Fuels, which reiterates Haaland’s fight to stop drilling and prevent the revitalization of the coal industry. You can sign the petition HERE

In Virginia, we are pushing to stop offshore drilling once and for all. In 2020, CCAN helped pass the Clean Economy Act, which brought a carbon-free electric grid to VA. While we have seen some success, the fight continues to stop pipelines and toxic fracking. 

In MD, CCAN helped to ban fracking statewide. But is this enough? As we continue to fight to keep pipelines off the Eastern Shore, the need for accountability has never been stronger. 

Biden’s blocking of new permits is essential, but so is the need to fully embrace offshore wind energy resources– which bring clean energy and the promise of thousands of new jobs. We must support Haaland in her efforts to not only prevent what harms the environment, but also push for clean energy development. There are two sides of the story here- ending the reliance on natural gas means opening our economy up to embracing the transition to clean energy. For this transition to become a reality, the structure of public land management must change and Deb Haaland is key to ensuring an equitable transition to a clean energy economy.

Changing federal policies regarding land use sets the precedent that the following administrations must adhere to. It’s too late; we need people like Deb Haaland and we need to act now, and we need you to act today to support our Clean Energy Standard (CES) campaign by signing this petition and reaching out to your senators. The clean energy transition has begun, and now we must begin the work of ensuring that it is equitable, rapid, and comprehensive. Only through the responsible management of our lands and waters can we come close to achieving the change we need.

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