Cantwell on Historic Haaland Nomination: People in Indian Country “feel like they have been good stewards of public land for centuries”

In unexpected second day of Senate questioning, Cantwell secures Haaland’s pledge that funding for national parks backlog and LWCF will be spent as Great American Outdoors Act intended

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing this morning to consider the nomination of Representative Deb Haaland to be U.S. Secretary of the Interior, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) spoke about the importance of responsible stewardship of public lands. This was Haaland’s second appearance before the committee after yesterday’s hearing was cut short for votes before all of the committee members had a chance to ask their questions for the nominee. 

Cantwell emphasized the historic nature of Haaland’s nomination—if confirmed she would be the first Indigenous Secretary of the Interior—and what it means for Tribal communities across the country: “There are people in Indian Country all over the United States that are so proud of her nomination. And they are—I don’t even know how we can explain adequately enough how much they are tuning in and looking at this moment. They feel like they have been good stewards of public land for centuries before us, and so, they are so excited about her nomination.”

In her Q&A, Cantwell secured Haaland’s commitment that under her leadership the Interior Department would seek the full $900 million in mandatory spending required in the Great American Outdoors Act, the historic bipartisan conservation legislation championed by Cantwell last year. That legislation also provided $9.5 billion dollars to address long neglected maintenance projects at our nation’s national parks, national forests, and Tribal schools. “We basically want to know that you’re going to provide the leadership and investment on the infrastructure upgrade that we’re looking for our national parks… We’ve got a fifty-year old water treatment system that needs to be upgraded, we have campgrounds and walkways in Mount Rainer that need to be upgraded. So I want to make sure that under your leadership, we’re going to make sure that those dollars get spent as we’ve envisioned them, and that you’re going to make this a priority within the agency.”

“I absolutely will Senator Cantwell, thank you,” said Haaland.

Haaland also promised Cantwell that she would undo damaging changes to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) jammed through in the waning days of the Trump administration.

Cantwell questioned Haaland about her support for the PILT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) program, which provides federal payments to local counties across Washington that host federal lands within their boundaries as compensation for the localities not being able to collect taxes on those properties.  The senator also asked the Interior Secretary nominee whether she would support efforts to provide bonus PILT payments to states that promote outdoor recreation at their National Wildlife Refuges. 

“On the issue of PILT, Payment In Lieu of Taxes… this is critical to many counties in my state,” Cantwell said. “And I think we’ve been thinking about ways that PILT might be able to be expanded to states that also have national wildlife refuges, that is to say, that the outdoor recreation opportunities that are supported there. So would you be willing to work with us in looking at ways to expand PILT to help compensate states for outdoor recreation opportunities and things that help increase the security of our nation’s wildlife refuges?”

Haaland responded, “Payments In Lieu of Taxes is extremely important, I’m committed to making it stronger. And of course I’d be open to ideas on how to improve that.”

Cantwell also discussed the vital role that federal lands managed by the Interior Department can play in combating the climate crisis, noting that President Biden’s efforts to reduce fossil fuel production and methane waste, combined with looking at how public lands can be used to increase carbon sequestration, could significantly reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

“I think people don’t realize that a recent study found that life cycle emissions from oil and gas and coal pulled from public lands and waters were equivalent to 20 percent of the total U.S. greenhouse emissions,” Cantwell said. “So I’m appreciative of what the president has done to try to get a handle on that. We’re seeing the impacts obviously with wildfires and disasters and changes in weather and all sorts of things. in fact I think NOAA said that climate disasters are $121 billion per year. These are big numbers, so we don’t need to be emitting that pollution.”

In yesterday’s Q&A with Haaland, Cantwell noted Haaland’s role in the passage of Cantwell’s historic legislation to compensate the Spokane Tribe for lands they lost due to the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam. She secured Haaland’s commitment to continue implementing her bipartisan wildfire legislation, signed into law by President Trump, as well as her commitment to science-based decision when it comes to public lands and protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Cantwell also asked Haaland to continue working with communities throughout Central Washington to implement the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s Q&A today with Representative Haaland is available HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript is HERE.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s Q&A yesterday with Representative Haaland is available HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript is HERE.