5 Action Steps for the Department of the Interior to Lead a National Mobilization to Defeat the Climate Crisis

Evergreen Action
5 min readDec 17, 2020

Rep. Deb Haaland’s strong record of leadership on federal climate, public lands and Tribal policy makes her an exceptional choice to lead the Department of the Interior. As the Chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Haaland has been a champion for protecting public lands in New Mexico and across the United States. And, she deeply understands the connection between land policy and climate policy, having led on legislation to transition America to 100% clean energy.

Rep. Haaland’s appointment is long-overdue. Today, the Biden Administration made history by appointing the first Native American cabinet secretary to oversee the agency in charge of land policy and America’s nation-to-nation relationship with Tribal nations. The appointment is a major step to address two long-standing and interconnected injustices: indigenous rights and the climate crisis.

Rep. Haaland’s leadership can reverse the tremendous damage done to America’s public lands, and stop them from being sold off to the highest-bidding special interests. Rep. Haaland will have critical work ahead to restore basic protections for America’s public lands, and end methane pollution and contamination of public lands. Under her leadership, the Department of Interior should end all new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands and offshore waters. The Department can also lead in working with local communities and Tribes to increase clean energy production on public lands and offshore waters. And, the Interior Department must honor Tribal sovereignty and treaty rights and empower Tribes to lead on protecting lands and waters.

Rep. Haaland is uniquely qualified to not only make Interior a climate agency, but do more to protect treasured lands and uphold Tribal sovereignty than any administration before it.

In order to realize President-elect Biden’s climate mandate, every federal agency must become a climate agency. As the Biden administration begins an all-out government mobilization to defeat the climate crisis, today, Evergreen Action is releasing 5 concrete actions for how the next Department of the Interior must act:

1. Restoring America’s Public Lands

From the start of the Trump Administration America’s public lands have been under attack. Trump and his fossil fuel-annointed Cabinet officials have moved aggressively to remove protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and for over 2 million acres of public land around Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, and much more. One of the first tasks for the new Interior Secretary must be reinstating greater protections for these and other treasured natural resources. The lands Americans own together as a country are some of this nation’s greatest assets, and when protected and invested in, can increase the health and resilience of ecosystems, boost rural economies, and provide the opportunity to create renewable energy that can help defeat climate change. This agenda must also include placing a moratorium on new fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters. About a quarter of all U.S. fossil fuels extraction, including two-fifths of all coal, occurs on federal lands and waters. This is a subsidy to fossil fuel corporations that must end. A critical step in the transition off of fossil fuels is to stop giving away our public trust resources to benefit the world’s richest companies, even as the public carries the cost of transition for workers and communities. Under the Secretary’s direction, the Bureaus of Land Management (BLM) and Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) must end all new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands and offshore waters, including coal, oil, gas, oil shale, and tar sands.

2. Realize Meaningful Tribal Sovereignty and Treaty Rights

The Biden administration must commit to respecting Tribal nations’ rights in the decisions that concern their governments, people and historical lands, and should take action to recognize the sovereignty of Indigenous nations. This includes empowering the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and other federal agencies to engage with Tribal nations in inclusive, transparent and meaningful consultation. The BIA should empower Tribal nations through free and informed consent to engage in decision-making over energy infrastructure, and to engage in joint control and protection of their lands, waters and resources. And, wherever possible, Interior should return treaty and former reservation lands to tribal trust status, and empower Tribes to take a leading role in environmental stewardship and co-management of public lands and waters.

3. Promote Renewable Energy Production and Transmission on Public Lands and Offshore Waters

Despite abundant wind and solar resources, cumbersome bureaucracy and a lack of transmission capacity have both limited renewable generation development on public and Tribal lands. The next Secretary should direct BLM and BOEM to hasten the clean energy transition by making permitting a priority at its state and field offices, improving the departments’ capacity to review renewable and transmission permits, updating Resource Management Plans across the board to make more areas available for renewables development, and providing technical assistance to Tribes looking to boost renewable energy production on their lands. The Interior Department should also partner with the Department of Energy (DOE) Power Marketing Administrations to utilize borrowing and contracting authority in the deployment of energy generation and transmission. Further, the exercise of these enhanced permitting powers should be undertaken in full collaboration with tribal communities and local stakeholders, and in recognition of historic environmental injustice in siting and approval.

4. Confronting Methane Pollution and Legacy Contamination on Public Lands

Following the Trump administration’s failed attempt to roll back the Methane Waste Prevention Rule, BLM should strengthen standards requiring oil and gas companies to find and stop methane venting, flaring and leaking in production and pipelines on public lands. The Secretary should also boost efforts to plug abandoned “orphan” oil and gas wells that leak methane at alarming rates. BLM can identify incentives for current operators to address nearby orphan sites, provide guidance to field staff plugging wells, and coordinate with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to increase reclamation of abandoned coal mines. The Secretary can also strengthen bonding requirements to ensure that fossil fuel extractors set aside the funds necessary to plug their disused wells.

5. Managing Water Resources Amidst Accelerating Climate Change

A clean, safe and reliable water supply is a vital lifeline for all American ecosystems, communities, and economic welfare. Amidst the stressors and damage to water supplies from accelerating impacts of climate change, every aspect of America’s water infrastructure is in need of greater federal investment. The Biden-Harris Administration must work with Congress to increase funding for water resource management in programs at the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation that help secure drought-resistant water supplies. The Department of Interior should prioritize support for locally-driven partnerships and strategies, like the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, in Washington. It should further emphasize collaborative interagency work on resilience to droughts and flooding, and to sustainable watershed management. These efforts should include the National Drought Resilience Partnership and National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), where Interior is working closely and effectively with sister agencies including USDA, NOAA, and others. These programs can advance water use efficiency, aquifer recharging, water reuse, community response and recovery, and coordination of the federal response. Under the leadership of the new secretary, the Department of Interior must lead in restoring stewardship of America’s precious and life-giving water resources as a guiding national priority for climate and economic stewardship.