Gov. John Hickenlooper had two points he wanted to get across as he questioned New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland on her nomination for interior secretary Tuesday: protect public lands and keep the Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Colorado.

"Like New Mexico, Colorado has a very strong conservation community, a vigorous outdoor recreation community," the former governor told President Biden's nominee at her confirmation hearing.

She could replace another Westerner, David Bernhardt, who grew up in Rifle and practiced law in Denver.

Hickenlooper is cosponsoring a bill that his Colorado colleague, Michael Bennet, has pushed for years: The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act to protect 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado for wilderness and recreation.

"Communities across our state have been working 10 years on this bill as a historic effort to protect public lands," the former governor told Haaland. "And the CORE Act is key to ensuring Coloradans can inherit both a thriving outdoor recreation economy and pristine outdoor spaces, as you already have been discussing this morning.

Rep. Joe Neguse elected to chair national parks, forests and public lands subcommittee

He debunked claims that the bill would close areas to roads and off-road trails, then Hickenlooper asked for an agency review of the bill, which he said was mischaracterized by the Trump administration.

Haaland told Hickenlooper she was disappointed that the CORE Act did not pass last year. She said Biden, too, supports a strong outdoor economy.

"I understand the administration also endorses the bill," she replied.

Hickenlooper meets with Biden Interior nominee Deb Haaland

On keeping BLM in Grand Junction, Haaland seemed less certain.

“I’ll absolutely keep an open dialogue,” she said. “And if you’re inviting me to Colorado I gracefully accept.”

Hickenlooper sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which held Haaland's confirmation hearing. Haaland took 2½ hours of questions Tuesday and the hearing is expected to conclude Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck of Windsor, who doubles as the state Republican Party chairman, released a statement skeptical of the restrictions that might accompany the Democrats' public lands legislation.

“Coloradans should have more control over our lands, not less,” Buck said in a statement. “The federal government already owns 35.9% of Colorado. This public lands package gives more power to bureaucrats in Washington to enforce onerous restrictions and kill energy jobs.

"Congress should focus on legislation that empowers state and local governments to make the right decisions for their communities, especially when it comes to managing our beautiful outdoors."

The oil and gas industry is keeping a wary eye on the pick.

The Interior Department oversees about 500 million acres of public lands across the country, but predominantly in the West.

Haaland could play a key role in Biden’s climate-focused agenda, deciding what activities must be limited to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Those public lands, however, sit on major fossil fuel reserves.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., noted that President Biden said last year he might stop all gas and oil leasing on federal and public lands.

"It is President Biden's agenda, not my own agenda, that I will be moving forward,'' Haaland replied.

If confirmed, she would become the nation's first interior secretary and presidential Cabinet member of American Indian descent. 

“The historic nature of my confirmation is not lost on me, but I will say that it is not about me,″ Haaland testified Monday. “Rather, I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans — moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us.″

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