Biden nominates Native American woman for cabinet post

Published December 19, 2020
In this March 5 file photo Rep Deb Haaland, Native American Caucus co-chair, speaks to reporters about the 2020 Census on Capitol Hill in Washington. — AP
In this March 5 file photo Rep Deb Haaland, Native American Caucus co-chair, speaks to reporters about the 2020 Census on Capitol Hill in Washington. — AP

WASHINGTON: US President-elect Joe Biden unveiled his environment team on Thursday, choosing congresswoman Deb Haaland to serve as the first Native American interior secretary and Jennifer Granholm, a former Michigan governor, as energy secretary.

He also nominated Michael Regan, a North Carolina environmental regulator who is Black and brokered the nation’s largest coal ash cleanup, to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The choices fit with Biden’s much-publicised pledge to form the most diverse White House cabinet in history.

“This brilliant, tested, trailblazing team will be ready on day one to confront the existential threat of climate change with a unified national response rooted in science and equity,” Biden said in a statement.

Haaland is a first-term Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico and a member of the Laguna Pueblo people. If confirmed by the Senate, she would become the first Native American to lead a cabinet-level department.

The Interior Department is a vast agency of more than 70,000 employees overseeing the country’s natural resources, including national parks, and oil and gas drilling sites, as well as tribal lands — home to 578 federally recognised tribes.

In Congress, Haaland has prioritised the improvement of services to tribal communities, especially assistance during the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately hurt Native American families.

“It would be an honour to move the Biden-Harris climate agenda forward, help repair the government-to-government relationship with tribes that the Trump Administration has ruined, and serve as the first Native American cabinet secretary in our nation’s history,” Haaland said ahead of her official nomination.

Regan served at the EPA in the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He would be the first Black man to lead the agency, tasked with helping to carry out Biden’s ambitious climate plans, which call for embracing clean energy and crafting higher fuel-efficiency standards for the country’s automobiles and trucks.

Energy secretary nominee Granholm has spoken often about the need to radically rethink energy policy in light of climate change.

An outspoken champion of Biden during the presidential campaign, Granholm has sketched out a national “race to the top” in which states could compete for clean energy funds.

Biden’s pick of Haaland is seen as a tough political call because he would be removing a Democrat from the House of Representatives at a time when the party’s majority there is hanging by a thread.

But a public campaign supporting Haaland’s nomination gained steam, and dozens of tribal leaders called on Biden to choose her.

The nomination marked “a historic and unprecedented day for all Indigenous people,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

Haaland’s pick “sends a clear message” that Biden “is committed to addressing the wrongs of the past and clearing a path for real change and opportunity for tribal nations.”

Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2020

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