5 Times Biden's Interior Nominee Refused to Answer Basic Questions on Energy

AP Photo/Juan Labreche

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of the interior, refused to answer basic questions about energy and fossil fuels on public lands. Haaland had previously campaigned on eliminating oil and gas production in New Mexico and Biden has pledged to eliminate drilling on public lands, yet the nominee played dumb when faced with elementary questions on these issues.


Rather than responding to basic questions and acknowledging the economic devastation that banning or restricting fossil fuels on public lands would entail, Haaland repeated that she has not been “briefed” on “that specific issue.”

Here are five gobsmacking moments from Wednesday’s confirmation hearing.

1. Haaland grudgingly admits shutting down pipelines costs jobs

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) noted that the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Native American Nation ships 300,000 barrels of oil a day through the Dakota Access Pipeline, oil that generates 90 percent of the nation’s revenues.

“Wouldn’t a shutdown of the pipeline have devastating economic consequences for them?” Hoeven asked.

“I don’t know the specificity of every single job there, but I can tell you that I would be more than dedicated to being briefed on that issue if I am confirmed,” Haaland responded.

After Hoeven repeated his question, Haaland conceded the basic premise.

“I don’t disagree, I understand what you’re saying. If something shuts down then jobs can be lost, and I understand that,” she begrudgingly admitted.


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2. Haaland wouldn’t address the limits of her authority

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) asked Haaland a simple but important question.

“Does the Department of the Interior have the authority to deny right-of-way renewals for existing pipelines that are compliant with all existing rules and regulations?” the senator asked.

Haaland refused to answer the question, saying merely that the issue would be “important” if she were to be confirmed. When Lankford asked her the same question, she again dodged.

“Senator, of course, I am not at the Department of Interior currently. I can’t fully answer that question but I would be happy to speak with you if I am confirmed,” Haaland said.

“But do you believe the Department of the Interior should reevaluate existing pipelines under federal lands?” Lankford pressed.

“Again, senator, I cannot answer that question because I do not know what the answer is,” the nominee replied.

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3. Is moving oil safer with pipelines than with trucks?

Lankford also asked Haaland whether it is safer to transport oil and gas by truck and train traffic or by pipeline. According to data from the Department of Transportation, pipelines are the safest method, with 99.999997 percent of gas and crude oil moved safely through interstate pipelines. Yet Haaland acted as though the question was extremely complicated and arcane.


“Do you believe truck and train traffic moving energy is safer than a pipeline or do you think pipelines are safer than truck and train traffic?” Lankford asked.

“Again, I wish I could answer that question. I don’t know what the question is, I haven’t seen those statistics,” Haaland said.

4. Haaland wouldn’t say the U.S. has better environmental standards than Venezuela

Haaland refused to tell Hoeven whether or not she would expect imports of foreign oil to go up if America stopped drilling on federal lands, and she even acted as though she had no idea whether U.S. oil production is safer than production in Venezuela.

“Would you expect imports of foreign oil to go up or down if we stopped developing oil and gas on federal lands?” Hoeven asked.

“Senator, I would absolutely — if I’m confirmed — ask to be briefed on this issue,” Haaland answered, as if she did not understand basic economics.

“If we don’t produce oil here then it’s logical that we’re going to import more from places like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and other places. Do you think their environmental standards are better than ours or not?” Hoeven responded.


“Senator, I am not altogether briefed on the environmental standards of other countries, currently,” the nominee responded.

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5. Is cannabis the replacement for oil and gas revenue?

Haaland stood by her previous suggestion that taxing the sale of marijuana should replace the revenue lost in the banning of oil and gas production.

“In 2018, You campaigned on eliminating oil and gas production in New Mexico and you were specifically asked how you would make up for the loss of oil and gas royalties, which the state uses to fund public schools, and your answer was you would vote to legalize cannabis. That was your answer,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said. He quoted her as saying, “If we legalize Cannabis and we have a new funding stream for our education system, that will help tremendously.”

“Do you still believe that states should replace oil and gas royalties used for public education with taxes on the sale of marijuana?” the senator asked.

“I think the point of that, senator, was that we should diversify our funding streams for education,” Haaland responded.


“So is selling marijuana among what the Biden administration calls better choices?” Barrasso asked, referring to climate czar John Kerry’s remarks that Biden wants to give displaced fossil fuel workers the ability to “have better choices” of jobs. “Is that the better choice, marijuana?”

“I honestly don’t know what president Biden’s stance is on cannabis currently,” Haaland responded.

“Well, we know what your stance is on replacing the revenue from the energy jobs, the jobs that power our economy and the energy that powers our country, and your preference is to turn to drugs is what you’ve recommended to the voters,” Barrasso replied. Ouch.

All this may not ultimately matter, however. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the pivotal (truly) moderate Democrats who has shown himself willing to stand up to Biden’s radicalism, has said he would vote to confirm this nominee. Perhaps Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) will demonstrate her commonsense and stand up for the energy workers who stand to lose big if Haaland acts on issues she claims to know so little about.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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