Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was hit with an ethics complaint Thursday over her controversial decision to choke off hundreds of thousands of acres in New Mexico from oil and gas development.
The government watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) filed the complaint with the Interior Department inspector general’s office, citing the secretary’s prior activism to eliminate opportunities for exploration in the same area.
“In June 2, 2023, Secretary Haaland withdrew public lands from future fuel leases within the Greater Chaco area,” read the complaint. “Somah Haaland, Secretary Haaland’s child, is a prominent member of an activist organization that lobbied federal officials seeking to restrict oil and gas leasing in the area.”
Somah Haaland works for the Pueblo Action Alliance (PAA), an Albuquerque-based climate group. Prior to Deb Haaland’s cabinet appointment, the secretary gave testimony to a film narrated by Somah that opposed drilling in the area.
“Given her past statements, participation in this film, and her child’s active role in lobbying against oil and gas development in the region, reasonable observers could question Secretary Haaland’s impartiality in the matter,” wrote PPT.
Secretary Haaland’s husband, Skip Sayre, is also the chief of sales and marketing for the Laguna Development Corporation, the “business arm” of Haaland’s tribe that has long opposed development in the region.
In June, the Interior Department drew a 10-mile protective radius around Chaco Cultural National Historical Park. The area is now barred from any new oil and gas leases over the next 20 years. House Republicans launched their own investigation into the Interior secretary’s conflicts of interest days after the announcement.
“Efforts to protect the Chaco landscape have been ongoing for decades, as Tribal communities have raised concerns about the impacts that new development would have on areas of deep cultural connection,” Haaland said in a press release at the time. “I value and appreciate the many Tribal leaders, elected officials, and stakeholders who have persisted in their work to conserve this special area.”
The 10-mile buffer, however, was put in place despite objections from local residents and a nearby tribe that hoped to capitalize on the natural resources.
In May, the nearby Navajo Nation had voted to reject the administration’s plans to withdraw 351,000 acres from opportunities for leasing. According to the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), an industry trade group that represents small independent producers, the agency’s decision in June will cost the tribe more than $194 million over the next two decades.
“Secretary Haaland has a conflict of interest as a member of the Laguna Pueblo that has been pushing for the very outcome on Chaco that she signed off on. Plus, her own daughter has lobbied her agency and members of Congress for that same outcome,” WEA President Kathleen Sgamma said in response to Thursday’s complaint. “As Secretary of the Interior, she has an obligation to balance the interests of all tribes, and not favor just one side.”