U.S. Senator Manchin to back Biden pick for interior secretary

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-NM, looks on during a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to be Interior Secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. February 23, 2021. Graeme Jennings/Pool via REUTERS

(Reuters) - Democratic Senator Joe Manchin will throw his support behind Congresswoman Deb Haaland to lead the Biden administration’s Interior Department, he said in a statement on Wednesday, likely securing her confirmation to become the first Native American in a cabinet position.

Manchin’s “yes” vote is seen as crucial to Haaland’s confirmation because he is a supporter of fossil fuel development who wields significant power in a U.S. Congress split 50-50 among Democrats and Republicans, meaning every Democratic backer counts. He had previously said that he was undecided on her bid.

“While we do not agree on every issue, (Haaland) reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation’s energy independence,” Manchin said in a statement. “For all these reasons, I believe Deb Haaland will be a Secretary of the Interior for every American and will vote to confirm her.”

Haaland’s Senate confirmation hearing this week was contentious, with Republicans focusing on her past opposition to fossil fuel projects, as well as her likely role as a key player in President Joe Biden’s efforts to combat climate change.

The U.S. Interior Department oversees around a fifth of the nation’s land surface along with offshore waters, accounting for around 25% of domestic oil and gas production. Biden has paused new drilling leasing on federal lands, and has said he wants to eventually impose a permanent ban on new drilling and encourage broader development of renewables instead.

As Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Manchin oversaw the two-day hearing this week. During the hearing, Manchin said he supported reducing methane emissions from pipelines on federal lands and the administration’s review of the oil and gas leasing program.

Last week, Manchin said he would oppose Biden Office of Management and Budget pick Neera Tanden, putting her confirmation at risk.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Nichola Groom; Editing by Leslie Adler and Aurora Ellis