His former congressional colleague will advance a far-left agenda as the new secretary of the interior, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., says. 

The Senate voted 51-40 Monday to confirm Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., to lead the Interior Department under President Joe Biden. Haaland supports Biden’s decision to halt further construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. 

Daines joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain the policies we likely will see implemented at the Interior Department under Haaland’s leadership, and how Montana is fighting to save the Keystone XL pipeline. 

We also cover these stories:

  • The Senate votes 50-49 to confirm Xavier Becerra, Biden’s controversial nominee, as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accuses House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of trying to overturn a state-certified election. 
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says critical race theory will not be part of his state’s education system.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

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Virginia Allen: We are joined today by Sen. Steve Daines of Montana. Senator, thank you so much for being here.

Sen. Steve Daines: Glad to join you, Virginia.

Allen: Senator, on Monday, the Senate confirmed Rep. Deb Haaland to serve as the secretary of the Department of Interior under President Joe Biden. You voted “no,” not to approve Haaland to this position. Why did you vote “no”?

Daines: Well, Rep. Haaland has a very well-defined record as it relates to her positions on policy items that are very important to us, particularly out West. She’s called for a ban on oil pipelines, a ban on fracking, a ban on all fossil fuel infrastructure. She has really embraced the Green New Deal hook, line, and sinker.

And furthermore, she has even suggested that on issues like endangered species, it’s really important in a place like Montana that we would keep some of these species that should be delisted according to the science, like the grizzly bear, they’d be listed in perpetuity as endangered.

So her positions are so far out of step with the mainstream folks in places like Montana. That’s why I opposed her nomination.

Allen: So how will her priorities really impact the people of your state, the people of Montana, as she leads the Interior Department?

Daines: Well, the sector, Interior, has a significant influence on policy outcomes and our way of life in a place like Montana. It relates to public lands. We want to see responsible management of our public lands. We want to protect our public lands and national parks, of course.

We also want to make sure we can continue to utilize our public lands where it makes sense in environmentally sound ways to develop our natural resources of oil, natural gas, and coal.

And this is where I’m concerned they’re looking to lock all these lands up and not allow us to continue to have, really, a balanced view of how we manage and maintain good stewardship of our public lands.

Allen: I think it would be helpful if we took just a moment to talk about where we have been at the Interior Department and then where it looks like we’re going. What are the differences that we saw under President [Donald] Trump at the Department of Interior? And then how are those priorities now changing under President Biden?

Daines: Yeah. Well, we’re seeing, sadly, a lurch to the left, a significant lurch to the left, unlike anything I’ve seen, certainly, in decades, as it relates to fundamental policies and philosophies, as it relates to managing our natural resources. They want to lock up our lands. They want to really destroy made-in-America energy.

And when you look at some of these important questions of managing wildlife, we should be celebrating the recovery of species like the grizzly bear, instead what we’re seeing from Rep. Haaland [is] suggesting that we keep a bear like that on the endangered species list forever.

And really, that becomes leverage for environmental groups to launch lawsuits to stop timber projects, and so forth. So it has a real significant rippling effect as it relates to the ability to manage natural resources.

Keep in mind the Trump Administration, under Secretary [David] Bernhardt and Secretary [Ryan] Zinke, made great strides in important preservation areas as it relates to protecting our public lands, like the Great American Outdoors Act.

That was a huge win for the Trump Administration that protects our national parks and continues to invest in infrastructure for one of our great treasures, which is certainly our national parks.

Allen: I think right now, so many Americans are thinking about our nation’s energy future, and you mentioned energy and those national resources, and of course, we’re all really concerned right now about the Keystone pipeline.

President Biden canceled the pipeline on his first day in office. Haaland also opposes the pipeline. What impact will canceling the Keystone pipeline have on the American people?

Daines: Yeah. Well, Virginia, my background before I came to Congress, I was a chemical engineer. I’ve studied a lot of science. I like to look at data and make sure data drives a good bit of decisions.

Particularly as you think about policy outcomes here in Washington, D.C., there is no sound, rational scientific basis for President Biden to have canceled the Keystone pipeline, other than I think it was virtue signaling for really the more extreme environmental parts of the Democratic Party.

What it will do to Montana, first of all, it will cut about $80 million of tax revenues every year for the state of Montana, and some of them are impoverished counties, so it’s a tremendous source of tax revenues.

Second is it’s actually the most environmentally sound way to transport oil, because that oil is going to be transported one way or the other. A pipeline has the least amount of carbon emissions compared to rail or truck.

So it doesn’t make any scientific reasons here to cancel it. In fact, it will actually increase the million tons of CO2 emissions per year because he canceled it. And so what he’s done here is he’s really sided with far-left environmentalist groups and the radical Green New Deal, instead of just commonsense energy policy here that we need.

By the way, the loss of jobs is significant, as well as continuing to develop made-in-America natural resources. Nobody wants to go back to the ’70s when we were dependent on the Middle East for oil. Those were dark days, and the future is so much brighter because of American energy innovation.

Allen: Does Haaland have a response for these arguments, that actually the Keystone pipeline is one of the most environmentally-friendly ways to transport oil?

I mean, it’s hard to understand, if the data and the science is actually showing, no, that this is a better option, why is it then that there’s this really, really strong and firm kind of swift turn away from it, arguing that, no, it actually will harm the environment, when it looks like the science is saying something different?

Daines: You know, Virginia, there is no response to that. The data’s very compelling, and the need for energy infrastructure across our country is so important.

It’s kind of ironic. When you hear from President Biden and my colleagues across the aisle, they are all pro-infrastructure. Well, pipelines are a really important part of our infrastructure in this nation, and again, it’s the most environmentally sound way and efficient way to transport liquids and gases.

So it’s puzzling, but I think it tells you, Virginia, that it’s not really based on the science. This is based on an ideology that’s going to neglect the science and the data to drive this “keep everything in the ground” philosophy of the left.

Allen: Well, Montana’s attorney general has announced that he’s going to take legal action against the Biden administration to really try to defend construction of the Keystone pipeline. And I know that you’re supporting that effort to do so.

Do you think that it’s possible that that construction could continue and this battle could be won to continue construction on the Keystone pipeline?

Daines: Sadly, Virginia, literally the pipeline was being put in the ground, is stacked in large pre-staging yards across eastern Montana, as the project was underway.

And it was shocking when so many families received pink slips for their employment as a result of President Biden’s executive order that he signed on the day he was sworn into office, Jan. 20.

So we’re going to look at all remedies.

I’m proud of my attorney general, Austin Knudsen, here in Montana, who is aggressively leading the charge on the courts. We also have a legislative action as well to try to continue to stir up bipartisan support to get the Keystone pipeline running again.

Remember, it’s just, we’re talking about the border crossing. That’s the leverage that President Biden had in the executive order. We’re talking about that fraction of an inch crossing the U.S.-Canadian border. That is why he could stop it.

Otherwise, all the environmental impact statements were completed. The construction was well on its way. It was because of that international border crossing. That’s the leverage that Biden had to stop it.

Allen: I know that the impact goes beyond even just those working right there on that pipeline, and you’ve talked about how it will impact small business owners in your state. What have you heard from those individuals?

Daines: Well, eastern Montana is a part of our state that has had a lot of struggles with their economies.

We’ve got places in Montana where the economies are booming, but out in the eastern part of our state, it’s tough. We see declining populations in these rural communities. They’re starving for tax revenues and jobs. And this is one of the unfortunate outcomes.

The irony here is the Democrats pride themselves in being the party of the working-class person. Well, that’s no longer the case.

It’s really the center right. It’s Republicans. It’s conservative thought that is really on the side of the working person, of allowing us to develop our natural resources responsibly, keeping energy prices low, keeping job creation high, and reducing our dependence on the Middle East and the rest of the world for our energy.

That puts us in a very sound position economically, and a sound position from a national security viewpoint. And I think so many Americans are just really puzzled and are concerned around where the Biden administration is headed as it relates to energy policy.

Allen: Yeah, yeah. You mentioned that reliance on other countries, including Middle Eastern countries, for our energy resources. Do you think we’ll see any movement toward energy independence under Haaland’s leadership?

Daines: Well, I don’t. If anything, it’s moving in the wrong direction. It’s moving backward.

You don’t have to go too far to look in the history books or have firsthand memories of what happened back in the 1970s when the Arab countries ganged up and attacked Israel. That was the War of Yom Kippur in ’73, and we saw oil prices quadruple over a short period of time.

And the shock of the sudden increase in oil prices to our economy resulted in hyperinflation, and then we saw the high interest rates of the late ’70s, early ’80s.

And I think we’ve forgotten how bad it was back then and how good we have it now, this age of prosperity, stability in energy prices. When there’s disruptions in the Middle East, and the Iranians will launch missiles at times at oil tankers, the global oil prices, they go up a couple dollars a barrel for a couple days, and they come right back to where they were.

In other words, we have really separated ourselves from the dependence in the Middle East for energy, and that is a profound change in national security for our nation and economic security. And we cannot go backward. We need to continue to move forward.

Allen: In regards to China, I know that you’ve spoken about our reliance on China’s critical mineral resources and how that ultimately is not in the best interest of Americans. What concerns you about America’s reliance on China right now in that regard?

Daines: Yeah. Well, just as we think of the parallels of the 1970s and OPEC in the Arab countries having control of the world’s oil supply then and production, what we’re seeing today is now China is becoming almost the OPEC, if you will, of critical minerals. And [the] United States relies on China for 30 key critical minerals.

By the way, some of these can be mined in my home state of Montana. Others can be mined in other places around the country. But when you let these extreme environmental groups have this “keep it in the ground” mentality, not just for oil, natural gas, and coal, but now also for minerals, to stop mining projects.

We’ve had examples of this … in critical minerals. We’ve got copper mines we’re trying to get permits in northwest Montana. It’s been decades, decades of lawsuits and permit applications just to get a copper mine approved.

So this poses a real challenge for our country going forward here because as we shift toward more electric vehicles and so forth, and solar power, we need these critical minerals. And literally China has leverage now over the United States because we have not been responsibly developing our production here in the United States.

Allen: When it comes to that environmental argument, how does America compare to countries like China, as far as the care that we take in the midst of pursuing things like mining minerals in the ground in order to make sure that we’re doing so responsibly and in a way that does protect and preserve our planet?

Daines: Well, you think about contrasting the way that we mine in the United States, the way that we develop our oil and gas and coal natural resource in the United States to the rest of the world, we have the soundest environmental practices. We also have the best labor practices.

So if we don’t develop those natural resources, other countries will, and that’s really at the expense of the environment.

We’re global stewards of the environment. And so for every additional ounce of ore that’s produced in countries outside of the United States, that actually creates more harm, because we do it the right way in the United States, and also in terms of labor practices.

Like Nigeria. Compare the labor practices between [the] United States and African countries. We do a much better job of protecting the rights of the workers.

And so there’s really a strong moral argument and environmental argument to developing our resources here in America, where we do it the right way.

Allen: If you had the opportunity to sit down with Rep. Haaland and talk about the next four years and the priorities for the Interior Department, what would you want to say to her?

Daines: Well, and I had a chance. We met over a Zoom call prior to her hearing in front of the Energy Committee. But a couple of things. The word I would ask for her to consider … is balance.

Let’s have an “all of the above” approach as it relates to energy. Let’s ensure that when we think about, for example, federal leasing moratoriums on oil, gas, and coal, let’s keep in mind that that would actually … increase global emissions by 5.5%.

Because, by the way, the United States has been a leader in reducing CO2 emissions. We’ve seen the most significant reductions in CO2 emissions related to energy of any country in the world.

So the more that we develop American resources, the better off the planet is. And so I just would hope that she would bring a balanced view to that, and we can have it both ways.

On one hand, we can continue to protect our environment, protect our national parks, protect our public lands, but by responsibly developing our natural resources, we also are protecting kind of the global resources here that we are asked to steward.

So I think the important, again, the operative word there will be, bring a balanced view to that job, and we’ll keep moving forward here. And actually, it’s not an either-or. We can do a both-and, in terms of protecting the environment and developing our natural resources, and creating jobs and protecting our economy.

Allen: Excellent. Senator, thank you so much for your time today. We truly appreciate it.

Daines: Thanks, Virginia.