US House panel investigates links between US Secretary of the Interior and environmentalists

Republican members of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources are concerned about ties between Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and an Indigenous group in her home state that advocates for stopping oil and gas production on public lands.

Members sent a letter to Haaland on Monday requesting documents related to his interactions with the Pueblo Action Alliance as well as those of his daughter, Somah, who has worked with the group and campaigned against fossil fuel development.

The request comes just days after Haaland decided to withdraw hundreds of square miles in New Mexico from oil and gas production for the next 20 years on the outskirts of the Chaco Culture National Historic Park – an area considered as sacred by some Native American communities.

U.S. Representative Bruce Westerman, the Republican from Arkansas who chairs the committee, said Congress has a duty to oversee federal agencies and the cabinet secretaries who run them and what he called “alliances” of Haaland present potential conflicts of interest.

“The committee is asking Secretary Haaland to shed some light on these ties between her family and this extremist group so that we can determine the potentially unethical manner in which these types of decisions are made throughout the federal bureaucracy. “Westerman said in a statement.

The Interior Department had no comment on the letter, agency spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said.

Haaland — who is from Laguna Pueblo and is the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency — said work to protect the lands around the Chaco has been going on for decades and numerous town hall meetings and consultations with tribal leaders have been done. part of the process. .

Julia Bernal, executive director of the Pueblo Action Alliance, called the Chaco decision a compromise because the group pushed for broader protections.

“The Alliance has urged the Biden administration to protect ancestral lands and address the climate emergency by phasing out fossil fuel extraction on public lands,” Bernal told The Associated Press in an e-mail. -mail. “President Westerman’s allegations are a misguided attempt to distract from the role of the fossil fuel industry in the climate crisis and the destruction of ancestral lands.”

Industry groups have suggested that Pueblo Action Alliance, Somah Haaland and others influenced Haaland, who as secretary oversees an agency that manages more than 380,000 square miles (984,196 square kilometers) of public land.

The Western Energy Alliance says Haaland and his senior officials granted special access to the Pueblo Action Alliance and its allies and helped the group lobby members of Congress and the Department of the Interior on issues brought before it. agency, including oil and gas leasing.

“Secretary Haaland has conflicts of interest that simply would not be tolerated if on behalf of oil and gas companies and should not be tolerated when on behalf of special environmental interests,” he said Monday. Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma. .

Among the documents requested by the House panel are copies of the ethical commitments signed by Haaland and any waivers granted to him.

The request also calls for communications between the secretary and Somah Haaland regarding the leasing of oil and gas on federal lands, Pueblo Action Alliance, efforts to pressure members of Congress or other government officials to take the lands away. federal development and a demonstration at the agency’s headquarters in October 2021