Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), at a Feb. 11, 2020, news conference, is now reportedly in the running to serve as secretary of the interior.

 

(Image: Photo by Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images.)

Environmental Group Opposing Udall as Biden's Interior Secretary

Food and Water Action comes out against New Mexico Democrat in the running to lead Dept. of Interior

A leading environmental group tells TYT that Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) should not be the secretary of the Department of the Interior in the Biden administration. The opposition to Udall, reportedly one of the top contenders for the position, comes from Food and Water Action, a progressive organization of environmental activists and the first national organization to oppose fracking.

The group's policy director, Mitch Jones, told TYT, “Senator Udall does have an inclination to compromise on issues of fossil fuel development…We need a secretary of the interior who both recognizes the urgency of the climate crisis and is willing to confront the fossil fuel industry directly.”

Asked to respond, Udall’s office did not directly address Jones' remarks, but pointed to documents Udall has posted online chronicling "his long record of leadership" on conservation and climate issues.

Jones supports another New Mexican Democrat in the running, Rep. Deb Haaland. She is a staunch environmentalist and vice-chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources. One of the first Native American women elected to Congress, Haaland is of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and endorsed by 150 Native American leaders, along with other environmentalists and progressives like 350.org.

A group of Haaland supporters reportedly asked Udall on Thursday to withdraw his name from consideration.

Udall's nomination would likely receive support from many of his Senate colleagues, including even some Republicans who reportedly gushed over him in his farewell. Udall is retiring after two terms and received praise for his cordiality and ability to compromise from Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and John Barrasso (R-WY).

TYT learned of Food and Water’s opposition to Udall when asking Jones about Udall’s bipartisan bill with retiring Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The Fair Returns for Public Lands Act would increase the amount of money oil and gas companies are charged for drilling on federal lands and waters. This seemingly positive step, though, could also perpetuate a dependency on oil and gas revenues, according to Jones.

“The bill should not be passed, period. Instead we should end new fossil fuel extraction on public lands and ramp down that production on public lands over a set period of time in the next decade… Biden promised to stop new extraction and…phase out oil swiftly to avoid increasingly chaotic climate change. We need an orderly transition.”

As TYT previously reported, fears that collecting revenue from fossil fuel companies perpetuates dependency on the industry have also surfaced concerning Biden's climate change liaison, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA). Richmond sponsored The Domestic Offshore Energy Reinvestment Act, which would raise the amount that offshore drillers have to pay for coastal restoration and protection of Gulf Coast states.

Although it may sound environmentally friendly, cementing offshore drilling as a revenue source poses a potential problem of dependency on fossil fuel revenues and perpetuating the fossil fuel industry, Food and Water’s Jones says.

“The underlying law that Rep. Richmond’s bill amends is itself a fossil fuel energy promotion for the Gulf of Mexico and is part of energy legislation during the Bush administration that began to unleash massive fossil fuel extraction in the U.S., which continued under the Obama administration.”

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), one of nine Republicans who co-sponsored Richmond’s bill (along with only five Democrats) said in a press release last year that the revenue from drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is “…indispensable for coastal restoration and hurricane preparedness.” Indispensable means permanently needed.

One staffer for a Democratic member of the Natural Resources Committee told TYT last month that people must recognize that oil and gas is needed now and that a transition will take time. While the staffer agreed that a deadline, or sunset law, would allow for taxation of fossil fuels but not perpetuate them, the staffer believed Food and Water’s suggested 2030 deadline is unrealistic given the present political climate on Capitol Hill.

“Part of the legislative process is give something to get something…ending by 2030 will never happen, that’s a real phasing out. We can’t just end this without having the next energy sources available to take the place of oil and gas. There can’t be a gap. People have to accept and trust that when they plug into their walls, there will be power and they can drive their cars with some energy. They don’t really care whether the source of energy is fossil fuels or renewable energy… Our biggest failure is we are not already committed to alternative energy.”

Jones agrees in principle, but not in practice. “We need an orderly transition… can’t stop production today and expect the economy to function tomorrow. But nobody is proposing that. Everyone who talks about stopping extraction [does so] as a vital part of a fair and just transition to renewable energy… We need to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions…look at what oil and gas companies are saying to shareholders, one another and to friendly business press…they are looking for ways to lengthen the life of fossil fuels indefinitely; that’s why their preferred solutions are all designed to allow continue extraction and burning of fossil fuels.”

Michael L. Connor, who was a deputy secretary of the interior during the Obama administration, is also under consideration. Connor is a member of the Taos Pueblo Tribe.

Biden has pledged his Interior Department would not issue new permits for oil, gas, and coal on federal lands and waters and by 2030 would end extraction on 30 percent of those areas. All three of the contenders to run the department support that goal.

TYT Investigative Reporter Ti-Hua Chang is an award-winning journalist who has worked for CBS News and other outlets. You can find him on Twitter @TiHuaChang.

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