Senate Committee Holds Confirmation Hearing for Katharine MacGregor
Western states should soon have another ally at the Interior Department after Katharine MacGregor completed a confirmation hearing before a Senate committee. MacGregor, who has served as acting deputy secretary since David Bernhardt was promoted to Interior Secretary last April, was officially nominated for the position at the end of September. She was nominated to the post of Deputy Secretary of the Interior on October 1.
During her hearing, MacGregor pledged to seek a balance between conservation stewardship and development.
“Since day one at Interior, I have worked hard to achieve a balance in managing America’s public lands, cultural treasures, and natural resources in order to achieve this Administration’s priorities,” MacGregor told the committee.
“I take seriously the call to protect our healthy natural environment and the species that depend upon it – just as seriously as I take the call to foster economic growth through the multiple-use of, and sustained yield from, our public lands.”
A Pennsylvania native, MacGregor worked for House Republicans and the House Committee on Natural Resources for a decade before joining the Department of the Interior in 2017. Over the course of her career, she has developed close ties with industry groups, though she assured the committee her top priority was upholding statutes as passed by Congress.
“I think we do quite well in the United states and economic prosperity is very important to many of the rural communities we work with and our statutes direct us to use those resources and to do so in a measured manner,” she said.
To this end, she supports efforts to expedite the permitting process for energy and mineral development as well as investment in rural broadband and other telecommunications work. Already she said that the Interior Department had worked to cut permitting wait times from 257 days to 108 days, an improvement that she admitted was still a long way from their 30-day goal.
“[Expediting permitting] is not just for oil and gas. It’s permitting writ large,” she explained. “For instance, if you wanted to permit rural communications towers for broadband it has to go through a permitting process, and I think we’re learning efficiencies through every branch and in many ways through the BLM.”
Since joining the Interior Department in 2017, MacGregor has served first as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Lands and Minerals Management, where she helped transition public auctions of oil and natural gas leases on public lands to online bidding. The change quieted anti-development protests and attracted the attention of Cabinet-level staff. She also supported legislation introduced in 2018 to help improve permitting efficiency and to reduce backlogs.
Testifying before Congress, MacGregor said these changes led to “an uptick in participation as more people can attend the lease sales online and perhaps increased revenues coming in.”
Talk of increased lease sales was a concern to some Democratic members of the committee, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.) who expressed concerns about energy production and water quality outside the town of Mesquite and Sen. Angus King (Maine), who asked for her commitment to supporting northeastern states in banning offshore drilling in the North Atlantic. In both instance, MacGregor stressed her commitment to enforcing the law as it written, be that an offshore drilling ban or an environmental analysis requirement.
While development and investment dominated much of the confirmation discussion, MacGregor sees the role of the Interior Department as something greater than these matters. She pledged to work with western states on “issues that are important to them,” including mineral leasing and rural broadband, partnering with tribes to address shortcomings in educational and economic opportunities and the outrage of missing and murdered Native American women, and working to reduce the risk of wildfire, which she described as her greatest present concern.
She also expressed support for the Restore Our Parks Act, which would address the maintenance backlog at National Parks.
As the hearing wrapped up, pledges from the committee members to work with her in the future make that confirmation sound almost a settled matter.