Exclusive: New Mexico's Deb Haaland emerges as Biden's top choice to lead U.S. Interior -sources

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) questions Major Adam DeMarco of the District of Columbia National Guard as he testifies about the June 1 confrontation with protesters at Lafayette Square near the White House during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 28, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis/Pool

WILMINGTON, Del./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico has emerged as President-elect Joe Biden’s leading choice to head the Interior Department, according to three sources familiar with the proceedings, a selection that would make her the first Native American to lead a cabinet agency.

The position would give her authority over a department that employs more than 70,000 people across the United States and oversees more than 20% of the nation’s surface, including tribal lands and national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite.

She has told Reuters she would seek to usher in an expansion of renewable energy production on federal land to contribute to the fight against climate change, and undo President Donald Trump’s focus on bolstering fossil fuels output.

Two of the sources said Biden’s team was close to finalizing the decision on Haaland, but was weighing concerns about the loss of a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrats are hanging on to a slim majority. The third source said the decision was made and that an announcement was imminent.

Progressive activists and tribal leaders had mounted a heavy pressure campaign over the last few weeks for Biden to select her, sending letters to the Biden transition team and launching a #DebforInterior campaign on social media.

Haaland, a member of the Laguna Puebo tribe and one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, has said she believes the fact that she was being considered for the Interior post was good news for Indian country.

“I’m glad our country’s progressed to a place where an idea like this is a consideration,” she said.

The Trump administration had used the Interior Department as a key tool in its “energy dominance” agenda, which prioritized deregulation and fastracking of fossil fuel projects to maximize domestic oil, gas, and coal output.

About a fifth of U.S. oil production comes from federal leases.

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