President-elect Joe Biden has picked Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico as head the Department of the Interior, making her the first-ever Native American to oversee the management of federal lands and resources.
If confirmed by the Senate, she would also be the first Native American Cabinet secretary and would oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which sits under the Interior Department.
"A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior," Haaland wrote on Twitter Thursday evening. "Growing up in my mother's Pueblo household made me fierce. I'll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land."
Haaland is a 35th-generation resident of New Mexico and member of the Pueblo Laguna. She is the daughter of a Marine Vietnam veteran and served as the first Native American leader of a state party in New Mexico. She has been in Congress since 2019.
Her appointment as secretary of the interior could signal an about-face for the department that under the Trump administration has prioritized fossil fuel extraction instead of preservation.
She was one of six appointments announced Thursday by Biden's transition team as part of the incoming administration team meant to address the impacts of climate change.
"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. "They share my belief that we have no time to waste to confront the climate crisis, protect our air and drinking water, and deliver justice to communities that have long shouldered the burdens of environmental harms."
As secretary of the interior, Haaland would oversee hundreds of millions of acres of public federal lands, including national parks, national monuments, and wildlife refuges.
Haaland served as vice chair of the House Natural Resources Committee and, according to the Washington Post, has introduced bills to address the high rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The Biden transition team also pointed to Haaland's work with Tribal Nations, rural communities, and communities of color.
Currently, the Interior Department is headed by David Bernhardt, a former energy industry lobbyist who has worked in the agency since 2001. Before Bernhardt, Trump had appointed Ryan Zinke to the position.
Under both secretaries, the department has widely expanded the extraction of natural gas and oil.
Zinke left in December 2018 after the agency's inspector general found he had violated rules by having family members travel with him in government vehicles, that the agency had spent more than $25,000 on security for his vacations to Turkey and Greece, and that he had tried to give his wife a position in the agency.
During his tenure, Politico also reported on Zinke's role in a development project that involved a foundation headed by his wife and a group backed by the chair of Halliburton.
Haaland was the top pick for interior secretary by the youth climate group Sunrise Movement and the Justice Democrats political action committee, both progressive groups that have expressed disappointment in some of Biden's other nominees.
News of Haaland's possible appointment has already been applauded by conservation groups.
"Rep. Haaland's historic appointment means a new era for protection for our wildlife, public lands and waters from the rapacious extractive industries that have ruled the day under the Trump administration," Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "It's critical for Native American leaders to be part of all decision-making about public lands, and Haaland's appointment will ensure that."
But Haaland's possible appointment to head the Interior Department could also leave fellow Democrats in the House of Representatives with an even slimmer majority after Biden is sworn on Jan. 20.
Talking to reporters, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Haaland "one of the most respected and one of the best members of Congress I have served with," and said she would not stop her possible appointment.
"If she is the president-elect's choice for interior secretary, then he will have made an excellent choice," she said.
Biden made another historic pick earlier this week by selecting former primary rival Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary. If confirmed, he would be the first openly LGBTQ member of a presidential Cabinet.