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Haaland Pivots Interior Toward Renewable Energy

With the stroke of a pen, the secretary of the interior just undid most of Trump’s harmful energy policies

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland tours near ancient dwellings along the Butler Wash trail during a visit to Bears Ears National Monument Thursday, April 8, 2021, near Blanding, Utah. (Photo: Rick Bowmer, Pool, Associated Press)
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland tours near ancient dwellings along the Butler Wash trail during a visit to Bears Ears National Monument Thursday, April 8, 2021, near Blanding, Utah.

On April 16, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland issued her first two secretarial orders. The first establishes a climate task force, coordinating Department of the Interior efforts to address climate change. The second revokes a dozen orders issued by both of Haaland’s Trump administration predecessors that were inconsistent with the DOI’s legal obligation to protect public health, make science-based decisions, and protect natural resources. 

“At the Department of the Interior, I believe we have a unique opportunity to make our communities more resilient to climate change and to help lead the transition to a clean energy economy,” Haaland said in a statement accompanying the action. “These steps will align the Interior Department with the President’s priorities and better position the team to be a part of the climate solution.”

The orders Haaland is revoking include: 

All that adds up to a thorough undoing of the Trump-era DOI’s heavy pivot toward policies skewed in favor of the oil and gas industries—everything from a rule that lifted public health regulations on fracking to one that prioritized energy development in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

“The previous orders unfairly tilted the balance of public land and ocean management toward extractive uses, without regard for climate change, equity or community engagement,” Haaland said. 

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental organization, published a statement indicating that Haaland’s action will mean consultation with tribal nations; reviews of environmental impacts of major federal actions such as fossil fuel leasing will include analysis of indirect and cumulative effects, like the social cost of carbon; and greater scrunity for new coal leasing.

Haaland does not have the authority to rescind the oil leases in ANWR that the Trump administration sold in its 11th hour, nor the orders to address the reductions that administration made to the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. It’s expected that the ANWR leases will be litigated in federal court, while Haaland has already visited the two monuments in Utah and is consulting with local stakeholders ahead of recommending actions there to the president later this year. 

“Today’s Secretarial Orders are another important step toward restoring scientific integrity, meaningful public process, and the longstanding stewardship responsibilities for America’s public lands and waters at the Department of Interior,” said Kristen Miller, conservation director at the Alaska Wilderness League, in a statement. “This is the type of bold and visionary leadership we need if we’re to effectively fight climate change, tackle the extinction crisis, and prioritize environmental justice and tribal consultation.”