December 2, 2020

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Udall’s record makes him right for Interior | Editorials

Even without a formal concession, President-elect Joe Biden is working hard on the business of the nation. His first priority Monday was establishing a COVID-19 task force to begin work on fighting back against the coronavirus pandemic, so fewer people die in the months ahead until a vaccination is available.

Biden also is beginning work assembling his team — and that includes naming Cabinet members, the people who will carry out his policies once he becomes the president on Jan. 20. It’s a compliment to our state that a number of New Mexicans are under consideration for Cabinet appointments.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham reportedly is being considered for the position of secretary of Health and Human Services, a job at which she would excel given her background both in running agencies and knowledge of health policy. Given the condition of the coronavirus pandemic and the bleak prospects for the state budget, we maintain she is needed in New Mexico. We hope she stays put.

Interestingly, both New Mexico senators are being considered for secretary of the Department of the Interior, as is U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland.

In our view, the job should be U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s to turn down.

His knowledge of the West, public lands, natural resources and Native tribes is second to none. It’s also a nice touch that Udall’s dad, Stewart, served as secretary of the interior under both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Because Udall is retiring from the Senate — he chose not to run for reelection — his selection won’t affect the makeup of our congressional delegation.

Because seniority in Congress matters, it’s important Sen. Martin Heinrich remain in the Senate and Haaland stay in the House, where she is now the state’s senior member in that body.

Haaland has been a distinct voice for New Mexico, Indigenous women, tribes and Western public lands during her first term in Congress. Her experience, background and intelligence are important to the delegation, which adds Rep.-elect Teresa Leger Fernandez and Rep.-elect Yvette Harrell in January.

That leaves Udall as the right person to lead the Department of the Interior at this consequential moment. Much work remains to right a department that was damaged in the past four years. That includes — but is hardly limited to — restoring public lands such as Bears Ears National Monument, keeping roadless protections for Tongass National Forest and slowing the exploitation of public land resources for profit, including at home in New Mexico around Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Despite his retirement from the Senate, it’s been clear Udall hadn’t planned to stop serving the state and the nation. He already was working on the 30×30 initiative to emphasize the importance of protecting land, water and air for the well-being of humanity and the planet, with a call to safeguard 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030. He and Haaland had introduced the 30×30 Resolution to Save Nature in Congress, virtually taking to the road in the past few months to publicize the need to save nature.

This resolution would rededicate the U.S. to create new national monuments and parks, create more green space in urban areas and return federal lands to a healthier state. As interior secretary, Udall would be able to accomplish these ambitious — and necessary — goals.

Few people appointed to Interior have the breadth of knowledge or depth of experience that Udall does in understanding the functioning of the department and its impact on the people of the West. Udall is at the top of Biden’s list for the Department of the Interior, according to news reports. And he should be.

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