Haaland kicks off tenure focusing on climate and environmental injustice

The new Interior secretary issued orders to create a Climate Task Force at the agency and to prioritize the social costs of greenhouse gases.


Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland.

This story was originally published by the Montana Free Press and is republished here by permission.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued two secretarial orders Friday aimed at making good on her pledge to fight climate change and prioritize environmental justice. 

Order No. 3399 creates a Climate Task Force within the Interior Department that’s tasked with prioritizing climate change in policy making and budgeting, addressing environmental injustices and finding ways to “foster economic revitalization” of energy-producing communities. The task force will also participate in a review of the federal oil and gas leasing program and ensure that environmental reviews associated with renewable energy projects are expedited.

In the order, the Interior Department affirms its commitment to making science-based decisions as it assesses the impacts of climate change on public land and its uses, and explores opportunities to slow climate change through the use of methods like carbon sequestration.

The order also rolls back some changes to the National Environmental Policy Act that went into effect last September under the Trump administration, and prioritizes study of the social costs of greenhouse gases, or “estimates in dollars of the long-term damages done by [greenhouse gases] in a given year.”

Order No. 3398 is more technical. It negates a number of “energy dominance” actions taken under the Trump administration that expanded oil and gas development on public lands. 

Haaland’s order reinstates a moratorium on federal coal reserve sales that was implemented under the Obama administration. Trump struck that policy down, and Haaland’s order puts it back into play, although perhaps not immediately. An Interior Department agency spokesperson told MarketWatch that it “does not automatically resurrect the coal moratorium” and that the agency is “continuing to review an appropriate path going forward.”

“Those previous orders unfairly tilted the balance of public land and ocean management toward extractive uses without regard for climate change, equity or community engagement,” Haaland said in a video about the orders posted to her Twitter account

“I know that signing secretarial orders alone won’t address the urgency of the climate crisis, far from it. But I’m hopeful that these steps will help make clear that we as a department have a mandate to act. With the best experience, talent and ingenuity of our public servants here at the Department of Interior, I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish together to care for our land so that it’s there for future generations.”

I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish together to care for our land so that it’s there for future generations.”

State and national environmental groups cheered the development. 

“These are all important first steps in trying to undo the damage of the Trump administration. We have a long way to go to address the climate crisis but the first thing that needs to be done is to clear the decks and start creating a climate strategy based upon science,” Anne Hedges, policy and legislative affairs director for the Montana Environmental Information Center, wrote in an email to Montana Free Press.

WildEarth Guardians’ climate and energy program director Jeremy Nichols described the development as a “watershed moment in the history of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

“Today’s orders make certain that the Interior Department is no longer going to serve as a rubber stamp for the coal and oil and gas industries,” he continued in a statement.

Oil and gas groups including the Montana Petroleum Association and the Western Energy Alliance couldn’t be reached for comment on the orders Friday afternoon.

Amanda Eggert lives in Billings,  Montana, and covers environmental issues for the Montana Free Press. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

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