Manchin, Committee Consider DOI Nominees

May 18, 2021

To watch a video of Senator Manchin’s opening remarks, please click here.

To watch a video of Senator Manchin’s questioning, please click here.

Washington, DC – Today, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to consider the nominations of Mr. Robert T. Anderson to be Solicitor of the Department of the Interior, Ms. Shannon A. Estenoz to be Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, and Ms. Tanya M. Trujillo to be an Assistant Secretary of the Interior (Water and Science). Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chairman of the Committee, expressed his support for all three nominees.

During the hearing, Chairman Manchin questioned Ms. Shannon Estenoz on her commitment to openly implementing projects through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) – which was provided with full and permanent mandatory funding when Senator Manchin’s historic Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law last year – as originally intended by Congress.

“I was disappointed that the previous Interior Secretary was initially less than forthcoming about which LWCF projects would be funded and imposed new conditions and restrictions on the program without any congressional input. I was glad to see that the Biden Administration has revoked those secretarial orders so that the program will be managed as it has in the past. If confirmed as Secretary, will you commit to working with the Congress to ensure that criteria for the Great American Outdoors Act is developed in an open and public process that recognizes the priority funding needs of all states?” asked Chairman Manchin.

“I, like many Americans, am so grateful for Congress’s actions last year. Full LWCF funding truly is a game-changer. If I’m confirmed, implementing that program, squeezing the maximum value out of every single dollar, and getting those dollars to work will be a top priority,” said Ms. Estenoz.

Chairman Manchin also questioned Mr. Robert Anderson on his commitment to enforcing laws passed by Congress.

“Congress writes the laws administered by the Interior Department, but the Solicitor interprets them in the first instance. You do that, in part, by issuing legal opinions, which are binding on all of the bureaus and offices, at least until the courts say otherwise. Two years ago, this Committee held a similar hearing on your predecessor’s nomination, at which I questioned him about the large number of his predecessor’s legal opinions he had overturned. I recognize that a new Administration is entitled to reassess and reverse the policies of its predecessor, within the limits of discretion afforded by the law. But what standard of review do you apply in deciding whether to overturn a prior interpretation of the law?” Chairman Manchin asked.

“The number one rule is that we have to follow the laws as written by Congress. When there is a Solicitor’s opinion written by a predecessor, whether he or she is a Democrat or a Republican, they need to be reversed when they are plainly inconsistent with existing law,” said Mr. Anderson. “Secondly, we look at these opinions similarly to the way we look at regulations. We evaluate whether or not they are consistent with the overriding law and regulations, or are arbitrary and capricious. So, we give some deference, but we look very searchingly at the rationale for a particular opinion. We also look at whether or not a particular opinion is based on and intended to facilitate polices that have now been rejected.”

“Thank you, Mr. Anderson. I feel like you’re going to be precise and use the law, rather than use your opinion,” Chairman Manchin said.

Finally, Chairman Manchin questioned Ms. Tanya Trujillo on what progress is being made and what needs to be done to confront challenges presented in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Climate Change Adaption Strategy, which was initially released in 2014 and updated in 2016.

To read the nominees’ testimony, please click here.

To watch the hearing in full, please click here.