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Haaland Unilaterally Waived Ethics Concerns Over Chaco Canyon Decision

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Interior Secretary Deb Haaland unilaterally dismissed ethics concerns over her decision on an oil and gas moratorium in New Mexico.

In August, Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT), a non-profit government watchdog, filed a complaint related to Haaland’s order to choke off hundreds of thousands of acres in New Mexico from energy development.

“In June 2, 2023, Secretary Haaland withdrew public lands from future fuel leases within the Greater Chaco area,” the complaint read. “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 began working for the Pueblo Action Alliance (PAA) as a media organizer in 2020, a far-left indigenous activist group in New Mexico. The 20-year moratorium on new leases within a 10-mile radius of New Mexico’s Chaco Cultural National Historical Park was a longtime goal of the organization. In 2021, the PAA released a video opposing energy development in the region narrated by Somah featuring her mother, who turned a signature wish list item into reality as secretary of the Interior.

[READ: Who Is Somah Haaland, The Activist Daughter Of Biden’s Interior Secretary?]

Documents obtained by PTT through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reveal the secretary’s recommendations from the agency’s ethics department. Officials suggested Haaland leverage the agency’s “catch all provision” of federal ethics rules. As long as Haaland examined the conflicting circumstances of her involvement in Chaco drilling decisions, the secretary could determine whether she believed a reasonable person would doubt her impartiality.

“If the Secretary personally determines that a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would not question her impartiality in performing her official duties in the particular matter, then she may participate in the particular matter as a part of her official duties,” they said.

More documents made public by PTT revealed Haaland’s determination.

“I have carefully assessed whether my participation would raise a question regarding my impartiality and performing my official duties,” Haaland told federal ethics authorities. “In undertaking this assessment I have considered the relevant facts about the particular matter in question and have determined that I believe that a reasonable person with knowledge of those facts would not question my impartiality.”

In other words, Haaland merely issued a statement with no justification. The secretary just asserted she was impartial despite participation in the activist work with her daughter to shut down oil and gas opportunities in the Greater Chaco area. The decision came to the detriment of the Navajo Nation, which voted to reject the administration’s plans to withdraw 351,000 acres from consideration for oil and gas leases.

“If Secretary Haaland really is satisfied that she could be impartial in the Chaco Canyon decision, she’s in the minority,” Michael Chamberlain, the director of PTT, told The Federalist. “Look at it from every angle — her previous statements, her daughter’s activism, her participation in a film advocating for the decision she eventually took, etc. — people would be more likely to believe one reason she took the job as Secretary was so she could take the land around Chaco off the table for oil and gas development than that she could be impartial on the decision.”


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