Republican threatens ‘brawl’ over Biden’s EPA, Interior picks

Jennifer A. Dlouhy

President-elect Joe Biden’s nominees to lead the EPA and Interior Department could face tough Senate questioning over their past opposition to fossil-fuel projects.

“We will be in a bit of a brawl,” said Senator Kevin Cramer of oil- and coal-rich North Dakota, during an appearance on Fox Business Network’s “Varney & Co.”

“We’re going to have to stand our ground and fight the fight,” Cramer said.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., speaks during a news conference on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Washington.

Criticism has focused on Representative Deb Haaland, Biden’s pick to lead the Interior Department, because of her past support for the Green New Deal and endorsement of a ban on fracking, the oil industry technique that has boosted U.S. crude production to record levels.

Oil and gas industry leaders have already encouraged senators to scrutinize Haaland’s record and the economic impact of a ban on drilling and fracking on federally owned land, which could cost eight Western states more $300 billion over two decades, according to an analysis released by Wyoming’s Republican governor this week.

The Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico said Thursday it had “serious concerns” about Haaland’s nomination, adding that she “has repeatedly demonstrated contempt toward our industry.”

Cramer also raised questions about Michael Regan, a North Carolina regulator Biden has tapped to be Environmental Protection Agency administrator. Cramer cited Regan’s rejection of a proposed natural gas pipeline expansion after determining it threatened the state’s water quality and opposition to a Trump-era rule scaling back the water bodies subject to federal oversight.

“Leaders from both parties have now recognized that President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn-in on January 20th,” the Biden-Harris transition said in an emailed statement. “The American people rightfully expect that the Senate will confirm his tested, deeply qualified, history-making cabinet nominees as swiftly as possible to ensure that our nation is fully equipped to overcome the unprecedented challenges facing our nation, from the coronavirus crisis to the climate crisis.”

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, pledged to keep an open mind. Barrasso is slated next year to head the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that will vet Haaland’s nomination, if the GOP retains control of the Senate.

“America’s public lands and natural resources are critical to the economy in Wyoming and across the West,” Barrasso said in an emailed statement. “While I have not had the opportunity to work with Representative Haaland on these issues, I will keep an open mind during the vetting process.”

If confirmed, Haaland would be expected to carry out Biden’s policy priorities. Biden has said he doesn’t support a widespread ban on fracking on private lands, which would require action from Congress. However, he has promised to stop it on federal lands and waters, which provide about 22% of total U.S. crude production, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Coal, oil and gas development on federal lands is responsible for 24% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Geological Survey.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised Biden’s picks for top energy and environmental posts, saying they “will be transformational in Democrats’ mission to achieve a clean energy future and to do so in a way that is just, equitable, sustainable and science-based.”

Environmentalists have warned against prioritizing the oil industry’s needs over a global climate crisis but have argued it’s important to ensure a just transition for fossil fuel workers whose jobs could be displaced by a rapid shift to renewable energy sources.

Veteran Republican strategists predict the Senate will ultimately confirm both Haaland and Regan.

Haaland will probably “get through without too much difficulty,” said Republican energy consultant Mike McKenna. “The bigger question is whether she will faithfully carry out Mr. Biden’s promise to end oil and gas development and/or fracking on federal lands, because to do such a thing would destroy a pretty big chunk of New Mexico’s economy and create a significant hole in the state’s budget.”