EXCLUSIVE: A watchdog group filed two federal lawsuits against the Biden administration Monday, alleging it has violated federal law by not sharing communications involving Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s daughter.
Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT), a non-profit watchdog organization, asked a federal court in the lawsuits — one filed against the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the other filed against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — to compel the two agencies to comply with its information requests. On Jan. 2, PPT filed information requests with the DOI and BLM, asking for communications with Haaland’s daughter Somah and top agency officials.
The information requests, filed under the Freedom of Information Act which requires the federal government to publicly share certain documents, communications and information with the public, came after a Fox News Digital report revealed Somah Haaland had lobbied federal lawmakers on hot-button oil and gas leasing issues over which her mother has oversight.
“Her daughter’s activism and lobbying efforts certainly have the potential to create the perception in the minds of the public that Secretary Haaland could be conflicted on issues under her authority,” PPT Director Michael Chamberlain told Fox News Digital. “Further complicating matters is the participation of an organization that claims Somah Haaland among its leadership in the protest that turned into a riot at the Interior headquarters.”
“Each of these items alone would point to the need for DOI to provide more transparency into any relationships and interactions between Somah Haaland and senior Department officials,” Chamberlain added. “Taken together, this need is magnified.”
In December, Fox News Digital reported that Somah Haaland, who is a media organizer for the Pueblo Action Alliance (PAA), a New Mexico-based cultural and environmental group, traveled to Washington, D.C., with a group of fellow climate activists to ask lawmakers and federal officials to block fossil fuel drilling near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico.
In addition to lobbying lawmakers, the activists screened a film narrated by Somah Haaland that “showcases the threats” posed by oil and gas leasing in the region. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-N.M., attended the screening along with “agency officials.”
PPT’s information request in early January requested all communications about the film between Somah Haaland and seven DOI officials including her mother and two BLM officials including the agency’s director Tracy Stone-Manning. In the group’s lawsuit Monday, it said both the DOI and BLM have still not produced the requested information and likely don’t intend to meet their statutory FOIA obligations.
“The Biden Administration promised a return to normalcy but the ties of Interior leaders to activist organizations that sometimes employ controversial tactics represents anything but a return to normalcy,” Chamberlain said.
In 2021, the PAA was involved in a violent protest in which climate activists stormed and attempted to breach the DOI’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. And PAA Executive Director Julia Bernal boasted in an interview that same year that she met personally with Secretary Haaland, who she referenced as “Auntie Deb,” to speak about water policy issues and the group’s opposition to oil and gas leasing.
Following the recent revelations about Somah Haaland’s activism, the Western Energy Alliance, a large Denver-based energy industry group, asked House Natural Resources Chairman Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., in March to open an investigation into the interior secretary’s apparent ethics violations. A spokesperson for Westerman said the congressman received the request and was reviewing potential next steps.
Secretary Haaland, meanwhile, is slated to testify before the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.
The DOI declined to comment on PPT’s lawsuits.