May 10, 2023
Republicans raise ethics concerns over Biden Cabinet official who ordered oil leasing ban
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A group of 11 House Republicans is sounding the alarm on Interior Secretary Deb Haaland's potential conflicts of interest related to an action she took last week restricting oil and gas drilling.
The Republicans, led by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., wrote to Haaland and top Interior Department ethics official Heather Gottry, expressing concern about how her and her family's past activism may have influenced the action. On Friday, Haaland finalized a ban on fossil fuel leasing within 10 miles of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.
"Under the standards of ethical conduct, federal government officials are required to recuse from particular matters involving specific parties where ‘a person with whom he has a covered relationship is or represents a party to such matter,’ unless authorized by the agency to participate," the Republican lawmakers wrote.
"Furthermore, a federal government official is barred from using their position for the private gain of family members or nonprofit organizations," the letter continued.
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Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks during a news conference on July 22, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
The letter noted that Haaland has been involved with the Pueblo Action Alliance (PAA), a New Mexico-based environmental and cultural group that has advocated against new leasing near Chaco Canyon. PAA Executive Director Julia Bernal boasted in 2021 that she met personally with Haaland, whom she referenced as "Auntie Deb," about the group's broad opposition to oil and gas leasing.
Haaland's daughter Somah has also worked for PAA and even lobbied on behalf of the group against new leasing near Chaco Canyon during a trip late last year to Washington, D.C.
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"Prior to joining the Biden Administration as Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Secretary Haaland was evidently involved with the Pueblo Action Alliance, a New Mexico based environmental and social justice organization that frequently engages in advocacy, protests, and lobbying throughout the United States," the letter stated.
"PAA and its leaders advocate for the dismantling of America's economic and political system and believe America is irredeemable because there is no ‘opportunity to reform a system that isn't founded on good morals or values,’" it added. "PAA's work includes efforts to restrict domestic oil and gas production."
In addition, the letter cited Haaland's latest ethics filing, which showed her husband Skip Sayre does consulting work for the Laguna Development Corp., a firm that is affiliated with the Laguna Pueblo, an Indigenous tribe. Like the PAA, the tribe has advocated in favor of a buffer zone around Chaco Canyon where new leasing would be banned.
Somah Haaland, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland's daughter, speaks during a virtual event hosted by The Wilderness Society in October. (The Wilderness Society/YouTube/Video screenshot)
"One of Congress's most essential duties is overseeing federal agencies and the cabinet secretaries who lead them," Westerman told Fox News Digital in a statement. "Recently, we’ve discovered concerning ties between Secretary Haaland and the radical environmental and social justice advocacy group Pueblo Action Alliance, as well as other potential conflicts of interests from her household she is required by law to disclose."
"These alliances raise ethical concerns about Secretary Haaland's conflict of interest over specific activities like her recent decision to further restrict domestic oil and natural gas production at a site in New Mexico," he added. "The committee is calling on Secretary Haaland to shed light on these ties between her family and this extremist group so we can determine the potentially unethical way these types of decisions are being made throughout the federal bureaucracy."
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The Republicans' letter concluded by listing a series of related questions about Haaland's ethics obligations and communications with PAA.
Meanwhile, in April, government watchdog organization Protect the Public's Trust filed two federal lawsuits against the Department of the Interior, alleging the agency and its subagency Bureau of Land Management have stonewalled information requests demanding communications involving Somah Haaland.
PAA didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The Interior Department declined to comment.
Thomas Catenacci is a politics writer for Fox News Digital.
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