When asked about coordination that’s taken place behind the scenes between Sec. Haaland and her daughter, agency officials have repeatedly refused to comment.
Since 2020, Somah has worked as a paid organizer for the New Mexico-based Pueblo Action Alliance (PAA). PAA and other coalition partners organized a violent climate protest at Interior headquarters in October 2021 with the aim of pressuring Interior to stop oil and natural gas leasing on tribal and federal lands. According to documents obtained from Interior officials by government watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust, Sec. Haaland’s staff collaborated directly with the organizers despite knowing the protest wouldn’t be peaceful. Fifty-five individuals were arrested and several police officers were injured, including one who was sent to the hospital.
More recently, news reports reveal Sec. Haaland’s daughter was a key part of a campaign to lobby Democratic lawmakers in Congress on Interior’s policies. Somah joined a coalition of climate groups, which included PAA, that urged lawmakers to support Interior’s proposed withdrawal of lands surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historical Park from federal oil and natural gas leasing. Sec. Haaland has the sole decision-making authority for withdrawals.
Targets of Somah’s December lobbying trip also included DOI officials. Her group organized the premier showing of a documentary film she narrated and features Sec. Haaland entitled, “Our Story: The Indigenous Led Fight to Protect Greater Chaco.” According to organizers, Interior officials attended the exclusive event alongside climate activists and special guests Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (NM-03).
Following her daughter’s lobbying trip, the Democratic majority in Congress included a carveout in the year-end omnibus spending bill advancing the secretary’s policy. They did so despite opposition by the Navajo Nation and numerous tribal members.
Questions about these conflicts of interest from media have gone unanswered by Interior officials on multiple occasions. A recent story by FOX News reports, “Somah Haaland and the DOI didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.”
Interior officials also dodged questions in a previous story by FOX in December, which reported, “The DOI and Somah Haaland declined to comment.”
Similarly, a recent story by The Center Square reports, “Spokespeople for the Department of the Interior and the Pueblo Action Alliance could not be reached for comment on Monday.”
Hiding from the media directly contradicts promises of transparency by agency staff. After entering office, Sec. Haaland’s spokesperson, Melissa Schwartz, told a group of reporters about the importance of responding to media. During a July 2021 webinar hosted by the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), Schwartz said, “I do think as public servants we have a duty to make sure that the American public knows how we’re spending their taxpayer dollars, and what we’re doing, and how we’re serving them, and how we’re managing our nation’s resources.”
When asked directly about fielding reporters’ questions, she added, “I think it’s part of our job, it’s important, and it’s our duty.”
The appearance of impropriety from top government officials, like Interior Sec. Haaland, needs to be investigated. Media should be able to inquire with federal agencies and get clear, direct, and rapid responses when there are questions about ethical violations. Media shouldn’t be stonewalled.
Evidence is mounting that Deb Haaland’s relationships with climate activists is putting her agency at risk. We’re concerned that special access is being granted to her daughter and organizations she’s affiliated with in order to advance agency policies through the back door. We urge Interior officials to keep their word and respond to the media about these concerning events.
Several questions arise about Sec. Haaland’s impartiality inside the agency when it comes to supporting her daughter, PAA, and associated climate groups. The following are questions we think ought to be answered of officials.
In relation to the violent protest:
Regarding Somah Haaland’s lobbying:
Finally, we would like to know what actions ethics officials at Interior have taken to review Sec. Haaland’s conflicts of interest to ensure special access and favors aren’t being granted to her daughter or her allies.