President-elect Joe Biden is poised to nominate U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, a Democrat from Albuquerque, as his interior secretary, who would become the first American Indian to serve as a Cabinet secretary.
She would replace a Coloradan, David Bernhardt, who was confirmed in April 2019 and who guided the relocation of the Bureau of Land Management headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction. Bernhardt grew up in Rifle.
Haaland has numerous ties to Colorado, as well, an ally of U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a fellow Democrat from Lafayette.
She featured her virtual chat with Neguse on her Instagram page in May.
Neguse on Thursday tweeted a photo of himself and Haaland appearing together on the news show "Face the Nation" in November 2018.
"A truly historic selection by @JoeBiden — congratulations to our next Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland!" Neguse tweeted. "@Deb4CongressNM was of the very first people I met after we were elected in 2018. She’s been an incredible colleague and friend, and will be a phenomenal Secretary!"
Soon after he released a formal statement:
“I whole-heartedly applaud President-Elect Biden’s historic nomination of my good friend and colleague Deb Haaland to be the next Secretary of Interior, and the first Native American Cabinet Secretary in U.S. history. The appointment of a Secretary of Interior who understands the importance of conserving our public lands, protecting our environment and tackling the climate crisis will truly benefit Coloradans and benefit our planet immensely."
Neguse called her a leader on addressing climate as well as a fighter for tribal voting rights.
Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Denver, also cited her friendship with Haaland on Twitter.
"Congratulations to my friend & colleague @RepDebHaaland for her historic nomination to serve as the next Sec. of Interior!" DeGette tweeted. "Deb is a fierce advocate for public lands who’s been steadfast in our fight to combat climate change. We will be well served with her at helm of Interior."
In October, Haaland was a guest speaker on virtual campaign event for Rep. Jason Crow of Aurora.
"I am so proud to see my friend and colleague Deb Haaland nominated for Interior Secretary," Crow tweeted Thursday afternoon. "As the first Native American to lead the department and a proud Westerner, @RepDebHaaland will ensure we as a nation continue to protect our public lands and invest in clean energy."
Staff for Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Colorado environmental groups were quick to applaud the news.
Conservation Colorado called her a "fearless" leader in Congress who "provides hope for many longstanding and broadly supported Colorado public lands initiatives, such as the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act and Colorado Wilderness Act."
Those measures have been bottled up by Republicans in Congress, however.
“It is a historic day for indigenous people and nations, who have lived and worked on the lands overseen by the Department of Interior," Beau Kiklis, Conservation Colorado’s public lands advocate, said in a statement.
"In her first term, Congresswoman Haaland championed a bold plan to conserve 30% of lands and water by 2030 to protect future generations. Her confirmation will inspire the country to include tribes in decisions about public lands protections. Conservation Colorado shares this same vision of including Indigenous peoples to create an equitable movement to protect public lands. We look forward to working side by side with Haaland to accomplish this goal.”
Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based environment think tank, congratulated Haaland and Michael Regan, North Carolina's Department of Environmental Quality leader who is expected to become the first Black person to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Their high-level expertise and critically important perspectives about how systemic environmental racism impacts under-resourced communities and communities of color is sorely needed after four years of destructive environmental policies that risked the health and safety of all Americans, especially the most vulnerable among us," Jon Goldin-Dubois, the organization's president, said in a statement.
“The challenge these two nominees – and the entire Biden-Harris administration – face is huge. ... The worst impacts of climate change are cruel, and they discriminate against people of color, and against people in each of our communities who don’t have the resources or the ability to pick up and move to higher ground or protect themselves from air pollution or high temperatures.”
Haaland, 60, would oversee a federal agency that maintains a relationship with 567 federally recognized tribes and 1.9 million American Indians and native Alaskans.
She is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and calls herself a "35th-generation" New Mexican. The former chair of the New Mexico Democratic Party, she was elected to Congress in 2018, replacing fellow Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, who ran successfully for governor.
When she was sworn in as a House member in January 2019, Haaland wore a traditional Pueblo attire. As interior secretary, if confirmed by the Senate, she would be in charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education. She is the co-chair of the House's Native American Caucus.
"It is truly a historic and unprecedented day for all Indigenous people,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez of Shonto, Arizona, said in a statement Thursday afternoon. Nez was one of the state's electors for Biden who cast his vote Monday.
Haaland did not immediately address the nomination on her Twitter feed Thursday, but she did take on the Trump administration.
"In 4 years, Trump failed Indian Country & only broke more promises," she posted. "It was exacerbated by the Administration’s failure to take this #pandemic seriously. Looking forward to turning the page on this dark chapter."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.