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Lankford says he won't vote for Haaland for interior secretary

WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Wednesday that he will vote for New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland to serve as interior secretary, clearing the way for her likely approval as the first Native American to head a Cabinet agency.

However, Sen. James Lankford, after participating in his first hearing since joining the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he would not support Haaland's confirmation.

“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," said Lankford, R-Oklahoma City. "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.”

Manchin, a moderate from West Virginia, had been publicly undecided through two days of hearings on Haaland's nomination by President Joe Biden. Manchin caused a political uproar last week by announcing plans to oppose Biden's choice for budget director, Neera Tanden, a crucial defection that could sink her nomination in the evenly divided Senate.

By contrast, Manchin said Haaland had earned his vote, despite disagreements over drilling on federal lands and the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

"While we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation's energy independence,'' Manchin said in a statement.

Haaland's House colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, praised Haaland's bipartisan accomplishments and "sincere willingness to work collaboratively on important issues,'' Manchin said.

Manchin also said he was pleased that Haaland, during hearings this week, said the Biden administration is committed to continuing to use fossil fuels "for years to come, even as we transition to a cleaner energy future through innovation, not elimination."

Manchin, a longtime coal industry defender, leads a committee that is crucial to Biden's efforts to address climate change but has expressed skepticism about some of the actions advocates say are needed to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. He has stressed the need for the Biden administration to create clean-energy jobs to replace jobs likely to be lost in the transition away from coal, oil and natural gas.

Manchin's announcement came as Republicans denounced Haaland, saying her opposition to fracking, Keystone XL and other issues made her unfit to serve in a role in which she will oversee energy development on vast swaths of federal lands, mostly in the West, as well as offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

"We should not undermine American energy production and we should not hurt our own economy, yet that is precisely what the Biden administration is doing," through a moratorium on oil and gas leases on federal lands, said Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the senior Republican on the Senate energy panel.

The leasing moratorium, signed by Biden last month and supported by Haaland, "is taking a sledgehammer to Western states' economies,'' Barrasso said, and could result in as many as 33,000 workers losing their jobs in Wyoming. An additional 62,000 workers in Haaland's home state of New Mexico also are at risk, he said.

Barrasso and other Republicans also bemoaned Biden's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, saying thousands of jobs will be lost and a friendly source of oil left idle. Haaland said under questioning Wednesday that she supports Biden's decision and stressed that she will be following his agenda at the Interior Department — not her own.