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Nonprofit Activist-Turned-Interior Official Is Using Federal Power To Shut Down Arctic Drilling, Ethics Watchdog Alleges

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A government watchdog group filed a complaint with the inspector general’s office at the U.S. Department of the Interior last week, accusing a senior land administrator of crossing the ethics line on Arctic leases.

The transparency nonprofit Protect the Public’s Trust accused Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Laura Daniel-Davis of improper influence over the Interior Department’s cancellation of oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Prior to joining the Biden administration, Daniel-Davis was chief of policy at the National Wildlife Federation, which had sued the department over the leases under President Donald Trump.

In a press release, Protect the Public’s Trust wrote that based on whistleblower reports and a Freedom of Information Act request, “Ms. Daniel-Davis’ involvement in the issue may have crossed the line into personal and substantial involvement in a particular matter involving her former employer.”

“Within six months at Interior, Ms. Daniel-Davis had exercised her official authority to achieve practically all of the legal remedies sought by her former employer in court,” the group explained. “Even worse, the legal arguments she relied on to do so were strikingly similar to those developed for and included in her former employer’s legal filings.”

As the principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals at the Department of the Interior, Daniel-Davis enjoys wide-ranging influence over agency policy navigating a myriad of public lands issues involving controversial projects. Arctic oil and gas operations, which the Biden administration has been aggressive in shutting down, are no exception. Last summer, the Interior Department suspended the nine leases for oil and gas extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that were issued under the Coastal Plain program during the Trump administration. Drilling in the refuge would open access to an estimated 4.3 to 11.8 billion barrels of untapped recoverable oil reserves.

Leasing on the small northern portion of the 19-million-acre refuge once opened for oil and gas exploration has now become a political football contingent on the party in power more than 3,000 miles away, with Democrats being near-unanimously opposed. Last year, Democrats tried to make executive protections for the refuge permanent under the original “Build Back Better” plan.

“On an issue that has been such a huge magnet for controversy, one would think the Department of the Interior would want to make sure that all the t’s were crossed and the i’s dotted,” Protect the Public’s Trust Director Michael Chamberlain said in a statement. “But, as evidenced by the recent IG report revealing an ethics violation by one of the Department’s top leadership as well as the potential missteps PPT has uncovered, adherence to ethics obligations does not appear to be at the top of the priority list at Secretary Haaland’s Department. It’s little wonder the American public’s trust in government is at an all-time low.”

In August, the Interior inspector general found that a top official in the Bureau of Land Management failed to comply with a federal ethics pledge when meeting with a former employer.


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