WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday held its first of two hearings to consider Deb Haaland, Biden's nominee to lead the Interior Department.
Senators will hold the second round of questioning Wednesday.
Haaland, 60, is a member of the U.S. House from New Mexico. If confirmed, she will be the first Native American to lead the Interior Department.
"I'll be a fierce advocate for our public lands," said Haaland.
The Interior secretary oversees several agencies important to agriculture, including the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Indian Affairs and National Park Service.
The agency manages hundreds of millions of acres of public lands and oversees grazing, hundreds of dams and reservoirs, recreation, energy development and other activities on about one-fifth of all federal land.
Haaland is considered controversial for her opposition to fracking, endorsement of the Green New Deal, participation in Dakota Access Pipeline protests and a tweet last year stating "Republicans don't believe in science."
Policy experts say the Senate will likely confirm Haaland, but the slim control Democrats hold means Haaland needs every vote she can get.
In her hearing Tuesday, Haaland revealed some of her policy agenda.
Haaland said, if confirmed, her priorities include clean energy, promoting Biden's Civilian Climate Corps initiative which trains young people for "environmentally friendly" careers, expanding rural broadband internet access and addressing the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women.
Haaland said she's in favor of transitioning to clean energy, but it won't happen overnight.
"Fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come," she said.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said during the storm last week that wind turbines froze and solar panels were covered in snow, making it "a challenge to maintain power." Lankford asked if Haaland supports "diversity of energy" rather than a total divorce from fossil fuels.
Haaland sympathized and said she's open to learning more.
She didn't answer questions about whether she supports pipelines.
When asked why she protested an oil pipeline in South Dakota in 2018, Haaland said she stood with tribes because she didn't feel they were properly consulted.
Several senators expressed concern that Biden's executive order halting new oil and gas leases on public lands could cost Americans many thousands of jobs.
Haaland responded that the order was Biden's decision, not hers. She said she would be "more than happy" to have discussions with Congress and the president.
If confirmed, Haaland said she will continue to permit coal mines, hard rock and similar mining and new electrical transmission lines — as long as everything is done legally and responsibly.
"The earth is here to provide for us, and that's my belief," she said.
She agreed to use the department's technological tools to forecast and fight wildfires, but dodged a question about whether she supports prescribed burning.
She said she'd be "guided by science" in decisions about wildlife refuges.
On endangered species, she didn't answer a question about when she would consider an endangered species "recovered" enough to delist it and give authority back to a state.
However, she did commit to listen to stakeholders.
On water, she said she would consider expanding offshore wind energy and would listen to all stakeholders concerning water issues in Washington state's Yakima Basin and elsewhere.
If confirmed, she said she will also consult local citizens in the national monument designation process, support methane capture and promote invasive species control.