Biden's top interior pick Deb Haaland draws pushback from US House

US Representative Deb Haaland was just elected to her second term representing New Mexico in the House. PHOTO: X80003

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US Representative Deb Haaland is President-elect Joe Biden's preferred candidate to lead the Interior Department though a final decision has been delayed as House leaders express concerns about filling her seat and other vacant spots.

The selection process was described by people familiar with the matter. Haaland didn't respond to requests for comment left at her office. But a person familiar with the matter said she is interested and her team and Biden's team are having conversations about her role.

If chosen and confirmed as interior secretary, Haaland would become the first American Indian cabinet secretary in US history.

Haaland, a Democrat, was just elected to her second term representing New Mexico in the House.

But top House leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, have warned the Biden-Harris transition team against picking another Democratic lawmaker for a cabinet post. While a Democrat is governor of New Mexico and the seat would likely stay in Democratic hands, it could take months to hold a special election.

Biden previously tapped two other Democratic representatives, Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and Marcia Fudge of Ohio, for administration posts. While the seats are likely to remain in Democratic control, the wait to fill them in special elections will leave House Democrats with a narrower majority.

Under New Mexico law, Haaland would not have to resign her House seat until her confirmation is complete. The New Mexico secretary of state, now a Democrat, would then have 10 days to set the date of a general election to fill the vacancy, to occur within 77 to 91 days of the vacancy taking effect.

The Interior Department runs the national park system and oversees grazing, recreation, energy development and other activities on about a fifth of the US. The department holds trust title to more than 22.6 million ha of lands for tribal nations and its Bureau of Indian Affairs works directly with 578 federally recognised Native American tribes.

Haaland, a 60-year-old citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, a 7,700-member tribe west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has drawn widespread praise from environmental groups and tribal leaders. They say she would bring a deep commitment to protect the land to an agency in charge of 202 million ha of it.

Biden is also said to have chosen Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of the politically pivotal state of Michigan, to lead the Department of Energy, people familiar with the matter said.

Gina McCarthy, a former EPA administrator, is a finalist to run a new White House office on climate change, another person familiar with that matter said. McCarthy, who now leads the Natural Resources Defence Council, was the driving force behind President Barack Obama's efforts to combat climate change through regulation, including his signature Clean Power Plan.

Brenda Mallory is the preferred choice to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, according to a person familiar with that matter. Mallory, who served as the agency's general counsel under Obama, has more recently been the director of regulatory policy for the Southern Environmental Law Centre, a group that uses litigation to promote clean air, safe water and wildlife conservation.

Separately, Biden's advisers have been deliberating over who should lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

The struggle has been playing out since late last week, as transition advisers ruled out a once-favoured candidate, Mary Nichols, and decided to widen the pool of potential picks, according to people familiar with the matter.

Contenders for the post include North Carolina regulator Michael Regan, New York University's Richard Revesz and National Wildlife Federation president Collin O'Mara.

Transition aides also have considered Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for the post.

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