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Interior Nominee Haaland Sidesteps Question on Biden’s Keystone XL Order: ‘It Is His Decision’

Rep. Deb Haaland (D., N.M.) speaks during a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to be Interior Secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., February 23, 2021. (Graeme Jennings/Reuters)

Representative Deb Haaland (D., N.M.) on Tuesday would not say whether she agrees with President Biden’s executive order canceling the Keystone XL pipeline, saying only that “it is his decision” during her confirmation hearing for interior secretary.

Senator Bill Cassidy (R., La.) pressed Haaland on her views on the executive order Biden signed on his first day in office, asking if she agrees with the decision to rescind the pipeline’s permit “knowing that 11,000 current or future jobs are eliminated because of it.”

She acknowledged that the pipeline has been “an issue” that “both sides [are] very passionate” about.

“With respect to President Biden’s decision, it is his decision, he’s the president,” she said.

Cassidy also touched on an exchange from earlier in the hearing in which Senator John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, questioned Haaland about a tweet from October 2020 in which she claimed that Republicans don’t believe in science.

Barrasso said that he and several other Republican members of the committee are medical doctors and he called the comment “concerning.”

“Do you think that as medical doctors we don’t believe in science? How do you stand by this statement?” Barrasso asked.

“Senator, yes, if you’re a doctor, I would assume that you believe in science,” Haaland replied.

Cassidy noted Haaland’s “perception as to how Republicans view science” and pointed to a “State Department reported based upon science that says building the pipeline lowers greenhouse gas emissions.”

“If you are the president would you eliminate the pipeline with the 11,000 jobs and the futures that are less bright for those families knowing that by not building it — based on science from the State Department — we would have increased global greenhouse gas emissions?” he asked.

He added that he is hoping that “Democrats pay attention to the science” and asked if the department, under her leadership, will “be guided by a prejudice against fossil fuel or will it be guided by science.”

“If I could just take the liberty of saying prejudice on fossil fuels — perhaps isn’t the way I would describe it,” Haaland responded. “I would say that President Biden is . . . moving toward the tremendous opportunities that we have in diversifying our energy resources.”

Cassidy then accused the congresswoman of “dodging my question.”

The exchange was one of several notable points of tension in the hearing for Haaland, who would make history as the first Native-American cabinet secretary if confirmed by the Senate.

A number of Republicans have expressed skepticism of Haaland’s confirmation, including Barrasso, who said that he is “troubled” by some of her positions on climate and energy issues, adding that she holds “views that many in my home state of Wyoming would consider as radical.”

Senator Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.), the chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has said he is undecided on whether he will back Haaland’s confirmation.

With the Senate evenly divided between the parties, Manchin, a moderate Democrat who does not always vote along party lines, has taken on newfound power. When Manchin votes no, Democrats need the support of at least one Republican senator for the matter at hand to pass.

A spokeswoman for Manchin reportedly told NBC News that he had met with the New Mexico congresswoman on Zoom to discuss her confirmation but that he had “remaining questions.”

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