Interior Secretary Haaland Hit with Ethics Complaint Over Major Oil and Gas Leasing Decision

Interior Secretary Haaland Hit with Ethics Complaint Over Major Oil and Gas Leasing Decision

  • August 17, 2023
Prior statements and participation in advocacy documentary opposing Chaco Canyon energy development undermine impartiality claims

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust filed an ethics complaint urging the Department of the Interior (DOI) Inspector General to investigate yet another apparent ethics violation by DOI Secretary Deb Haaland. The Secretary recently exercised regulatory authority to impose a controversial moratorium on oil and gas leasing near Chaco Canyon National Historic Park despite several public statements and actions making clear her pre-determined position. These include her participation in a film, Our Story: The Indigenous Led Fight to Protect Greater Chaco, narrated by her child, Somah Haaland, and have led PPT to request an investigation into whether the Secretary fully complied with her impartiality and ethics obligations.

Somah Haaland is a media organizer and lobbyist with the Pueblo Action Alliance,which is a self-described revolutionary organization that seeks to use “Indigenous solutions as means to dismantle and eradicate white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, hetero-patriarchy and extractive colonialism.” Our Story used footage of Secretary Haaland inveighing against oil and gas leasing at Chaco when she was a Congresswoman, including what appears to be a one-on-one interview at an event near the site.

Documents PPT obtained via Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Interior ethics officials were forced to contact the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) – two prominent organizations helping to publicize Our Story – requesting they promptly remove references to the Secretary’s official title and her photo from promotional materials. As of mid-August 2023, the Video Project website marketing the film continues to list the Secretary with her official title, stating that the documentary features “Deb Haaland, US Secretary of the Interior (Laguna Pueblo).”

As of mid-2023, friendly and critical NGOs from all perspectives, stakeholders on the ground (the Navajo Nation in particular), lawmakers and media outlets all appeared to believe Secretary Haaland was anything but an impartial decision-maker in the matter. Unfortunately, on June 2, 2023, Secretary Haaland brushed aside all impartiality concerns and issued an order withdrawing federal lands within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Canyon in the Greater Chaco area from new oil and natural gas leasing for the next 20 years.

“The American public deserves the assurance that official decisions at the Department of the Interior and other agencies are made in an impartial manner,” said Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “Despite her unequivocal public statements as a federal official, her child’s leadership position at the loudest advocacy group calling for a moratorium, and even her ‘participation’ in a documentary arguing for such a policy, as Secretary, Deb Haaland pushed forward in the apparent misconception that people would believe she could be ‘impartial’ in the matter. Not only could people knowledgeable about the facts have reason to question her impartiality on this matter, many already have. Is it any wonder the public has so little trust in our government?”