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Lankford to Oppose President Biden’s Interior Nominee

CLICK HERE to watch Part One of Lankford’s Q&A.

CLICK HERE to watch Part Two of Lankford’s Q&A.

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) participated in his first hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, following his selection to the Committee for the 117th Congress. The two-part hearing focused on consideration of the nomination of Rep. Debra Haaland (D-NM) to serve as the Secretary of the Interior. Lankford’s questions in the hearing focused on energy leases and permitting issues on federal and Tribal lands, pipeline permitting issues, and the Endangered Species Act, specifically the American Burying Beetle’s ongoing listing as “threatened.” Lankford also serves on the Indian Affairs Committee.

Following the conclusion hearing, Lankford announced that he does not plan to support Rep. Haaland’s nomination:

“Last week we experienced the consequences of losing any element of our all-of-the-above energy strategy. We must maintain reliable energy resources, especially for our coldest and hottest days. Oklahomans need the Secretary of the Interior to advocate for reliable base power. All of us want clean air, water, and land that we would be proud to pass on to the next generation. But, Rep. Haaland’s legislative record and testimony demonstrate her commitment to an unrealistic energy reality. I cannot support her nomination to serve as the Secretary of the Interior.” 

Excerpt from Lankford’s Q&A

On the energy challenges from Oklahoma’s extreme weather last week

Lankford: I’m sure you’re very aware, last week across much of the Midwest we had very extreme cold temperatures that happened. We had a test on the Southwest Power Pool [SPP]. While there was a lot of attention that was on Texas and the long shutdowns there, we had issues as well. Our wind towers froze up. In fact for several days in the Southwest Power Pool, we were actually running more diesel power than we were wind power which it’s not uncommon for us to run 40 percent of our power by wind power. We had a real pull on all of our solar panels. Obviously they were covered in snow at the time or very cloudy days. So we had quite a challenge on just being able to maintain power when were negative fourteen degrees.

On land lease and permitting issues on Tribal lands versus federal lands

Lankford: We are truly an all-of-the-above [energy] state, as you and I have talked about before. We have more renewables in Oklahoma that we use in our power than New Mexico does. We are significant in our use of renewables and appreciate those, but we have some real challenges that we want to be sure that we pay attention to. So let me drill down on a few issues because of your past statements and want to get a few things just in conversation.

The Osage Nation and the Osage Mineral Council, they have a lot of oil and gas development in their Tribal areas. They’ve had a challenge—in fact we asked them about it—they said they’ve had seven years of devastation brought on by onerous BIA regulations restricting access on their oil and gas well records and then the Fish and Wildlife [Service] coming in and adding Environmental Impact Statements that were entirely new to them. It’s a significant portion of the income for the Tribe, and it’s significant for the state as well. What would be your standards on oil and gas development, mineral development, and Tribal areas?

Haaland: Thank you for that question, Senator, and first, your comment about Oklahoma having more renewables than New Mexico—I don’t know about Senator Heinrich, but that sounds like a challenge to me. So perhaps we can work on that. Senator, with respect to the pause on leases. I know that it’s just on public lands, not on Tribal lands. So Tribes should continue to move forward with their operations…

Lankford: …Would your recommendations be different for Tribal land development than they would be for federal land development?

Haaland: Senator, I want to first assure you that if I’m confirmed as Secretary, that is a far different role than it is for a Congresswoman, representing one small district in my state. I understand that role; it’s to serve all Americans, not just my one district in New Mexico…I would be happy to look at the issue, to study it then, if I’m confirmed and speak with you about it.

On DOI’s authority to de-authorize existing pipelines

Lankford: Do you think that the Department of the Interior has the authority to deny an area where they [pipeline companies] have already an existing right-of-way, though? To go in and say, ‘There’s an existing pipeline already in this area—as you know there’s thousands of miles of pipelines that travel underneath federal lands right now—do you believe the Depart of the Interior has the authority to be able to go in and say, ‘You no longer have right-of-way in these areas in federal lands for existing pipelines’?

Haaland: Senator, of course I am not at the Department of the Interior currently. I can’t fully answer that question, but I would be happy to speak with you if I’m confirmed, and certainly I’m sure the Department would be happy to give you an answer on that.

Lankford: But do you believe that the Department of the Inferior should re-evaluate existing pipelines under federal lands?

Haaland: Again, Senator, I can’t answer that question because I don’t know what the answer is, but if I am confirmed of course—it’s important to you—I would be happy to speak with you.

Lankford: It’s actually important to every American that wants to stay warm in the winter, and for everyone that flies in a plane or drives a car it becomes a pretty important issue because if we lose access to pipelines that are already in the ground that go through federal lands or have right-of-way, we lose access. And what happens is all that energy then goes to truck traffic and goes to train traffic. Do you believe truck and train traffic moving energy is safer than a pipeline, or do you think pipelines are safer than truck and train traffic?

Haaland: Again, I wish I could answer that question. I don’t know what the answer is, Senator. I haven’t seen those statistics.

Lankford: I would go ahead and tell you that it’s safer and less expensive to be able to move it in a pipeline than it is on truck traffic or in train traffic.

On the American Burying Beetle in southeast Oklahoma

Lankford: Do you believe the goal of the endangered species list is to keep endangered species on the list or is it to graduate endangered species off the list?

Haaland: I think the goal is to restore species. I think the goal is to work with communities to make sure that we’re restoring those species so that they can survive.

Lankford: We have a wonderful little bug called the American Burying Beetle that is in multiple different states. We have it a lot in southeast Oklahoma. It was declared endangered and threatened before, and we did a long study on it. It is a bug that lives underground, and so we really didn’t know what the population was. So for five years there was a population study on the American Burying Beetle and after five years of study, they found out there are a lot more of those bugs out there than anyone ever thought and they’re in a lot more places than anyone ever thought. And so for five years that was the required study the number exceeded every single year what the standard was to be able to set. So it should come off the list.

Instead, there was a pause to say, ‘But in 50 years there could be a change in temperature, and if there’s a change in temperature 50 years from now, it could affect that species and so we’re going to leave it on the list as ‘’threatened’.’ So my question to you is: statically, what do you believe about how we should handle endangered species, if they achieve all the population numbers, all the goals that are set to de-list them, should we maintain all those species to say, ‘in the future they could be threatened so we’re going to leave them listed,’ or should they be able to graduate off, if they hit those lists. And then 30, 40 years from now we star to see a population decline, to re-list them?

Haaland: Thank you, Senator, and I know that it’s important to look at the science when it comes to the Endangered Species Act.

Lankford: It is.

Haaland: And I know that every listing is different. So, what I would say is, if I’m confirmed, I would absolutely wok with the scientists who manage these species and absolutely take a good close look. I appreciate your knowledge and caring for the beetles in your state and look forward to working with you on that. In the end, I believe it’s science that manages that.

Lankford: I do as well, and when you hit all the numbers and the targets that science has set it seems like you’d actually graduate off the program.