OPINION: Deb Haaland hurts rural America

Deb Haaland

It has been 20 long months since Joe Biden took the oath of office and took direct aim at America’s energy industry. For all his documented failures as president, Biden has succeeded in his promise to fulfill a green agenda, beginning with his first day in office, as he used executive orders to shut down the Keystone XL pipeline and halting development in the 10-02 area of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

No one on Team Biden has done a better job of following the eco-left’s green playbook than Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who has used her position to push for economic, cultural and racial justice as cornerstones of her department’s mission. She has traveled across the country while in her role, under the guise of learning more about the balance between public lands and economic opportunity.

However, a review of her actions shows a clear imbalance, one tilted heavily toward environmental lock-ups rather than economic opportunity for the very people and communities who need those jobs the most.

Earlier this year, Haaland traveled to Minnesota, where she stayed in the Twin Cities (hardly ‘public land’ that Interior focuses on), drawing the ire of Republican Rep. Pete Stauber. Haaland could have traveled to Northeast Minnesota and the Twin Metals nickel mining project that she had issued an executive order blocking development of just months earlier but chose not to.

Haaland failed to intervene in cases brought by environmentalists to halt leasing for coal mining on federal lands and to keep Nevada and California-based lithium mining opportunities from moving forward, even as America faces supply-chain dependence on Communist China, Russia and African-warlord-controlled mines for critical and strategic minerals needed for the environmental lobby’s desired ‘green’ revolution.

She has even stifled development opportunities in her home state of New Mexico, whose economic outlook is ranked 38th in the nation. The Navajo Nation, the nearest Indigenous people to Chaco Canyon in the northwestern portion of the state, have lambasted Haaland and the Biden administration for ignoring tribal consultation requirements and further disregarding the Navajo’s desire for a smaller (5-mile) buffer zone around the Canyon; one that would allow the Navajo to continue with its oil and gas development projects in the area, rather than be shut down by Interior’s larger, 10-mile proposed zone.

But nowhere has Haaland targeted quite like our state of Alaska, where Interior controls nearly 63% of our acreage through public lands, national parks, forests and wildlife areas.

Haaland and the Interior Department have acted as nothing short of attack dogs against development opportunities. She celebrated the cancellation of development of ANWR’s 10-02 area, even though local Indigenous people -- the Inupiat in Kaktovik, located within ANWR’s borders -- overwhelmingly support the project, as they have seen how nearby Prudhoe Bay has benefitted villages across the North Slope of Alaska.

When a federal judge tossed out an approved development plan for ConocoPhillips’ Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) in July 2021, it took nearly a year and constant pressure from Alaska’s business, political and congressional leaders for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to issue a plan to re-review the project. The delay, overseen by Haaland and the Bureau of Land Management, could delay the project for years. With global energy supply restricted, the 180,000 barrel-per-day project would be welcomed by consumers.

Even after visiting our state and professing a desire to listen to those closest to the projects Interior has influence and control over, the hits just kept on coming.

Subsequent rulings included shrinking the land available for development in NPR-A by nearly 50% from a plan approved by the previous administration, cancelling a regulatorily required Cook Inlet oil and gas lease sale, and a pause and subsequent requirement to reexamine the obligations to build an access road to the Ambler Mining District in Northwest Alaska, an area rich in the same critical and strategic minerals previously noted as being nearly wholly imported from less-than-friendly sources.

Deb Haaland and her bias against traditional energy has been devastating for rural America, including numerous areas noted as being economically and racially disadvantaged. If she really cared about her stated mission to bring opportunity to the poorest areas of the country, she would stop with the assaults, focus on balancing environmental stewardship with responsible development, and encourage -- not block -- projects and prospects that could bring tens of thousands of traditional energy jobs back to rural America.

Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska state director for Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs.

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