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Deb Haaland's on subpoena watch

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland

Haaland in November. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

The Interior Department is precariously close to facing House Republicans' subpoena cannon.

Why it matters: Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has, by all appearances, the tensest relationship with Republicans on the Hill of any energy-related Cabinet secretary.

  • Their efforts may lay the groundwork for making political hay from Haaland's landmark status as the first Native American to lead the department.

Driving the news: House Natural Resources Chair Bruce Westerman told Axios that Interior isn't cooperating with the committee on investigative priorities and that the committee may be about to proceed with subpoenas.

  • "We have done some interviews, [which is] the step before doing subpoenas. And we have subpoena power if we have to use it," he said. "I hope the administration will start giving us information. So far, they've failed pretty miserably."

Zoom in: At least two major NatRes investigations bear watching for potential subpoena candidates: a probe into a New York City migrant camp and another focused on Haaland's ties to a Pueblo-led activist organization.

  • The activist-centric investigation accuses Haaland of potentially violating ethics rules and claims she has a relationship with an organization called the Pueblo Action Alliance.
  • It alleges potential impropriety around the move to restrict oil and gas development in Chaco Canyon.
  • Interior provided a "limited document production" after the probe began in June, a GOP committee aide told Axios. But officials haven't given the committee anything in response to its latest letter on the matter.
  • Another letter on the topic is in the works, the aide said.

There are other unresolved committee investigationssee the Twin Metals mineral withdrawal, offshore oil and gas leasing and other politicized matters, like remote work.

  • Plus, the committee has floated new concerns in recent weeks about the now-withdrawn proposal to list "natural asset companies" on the New York Stock Exchange and its relationship to the Bureau of Land Management's conservation rule.

Reality check: Experts have previously questioned the GOP's ethics allegations against Haaland, as conflict of interest law has an explicit carveout for Native officials.

Between the lines: House Republicans' moves are a far cry from how some in the GOP handled her nomination — like the late Rep. Don Young, who introduced her at her confirmation hearing.

The big picture: Haaland's tenure at Interior has come with fresh actions to protect sacred sites, handle tribal remains and involve Native peoples more intimately in permitting processes.

  • Interior has also sided with tribes on some projects, like Twin Metals and Chaco Canyon.
  • These moves have led those on the right, like Montana congressman and Trump-era Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, to tell Axios that Haaland is "struggling."

Yet the department has also drawn criticism from friendlier camps.

  • Some tribal members recently told E&E News they feel cut out of the Biden administration's decision-making around federal financing of industrial projects.

What they're saying: Haaland has her defenders among her Democratic cohorts on the Hill, who've previously gone to bat against the investigation into the Pueblo Action Alliance.

  • Rep. Melanie Stansbury, who took over Haaland's New Mexico seat after she resigned for the Interior post, told Axios the secretary "has elevated Indigenous leadership, voices and communities in a way that has never been done in the 150 years the Department of Interior has overseen those issues."
  • Haaland still "has a lot of friends" on the Hill from her time as a member of Congress, Rep. Jared Huffman told Axios.

What they're (not) saying: Interior spokesperson Melissa Schwartz told Axios that the department has "nothing to offer" in response to the subpoena threat.

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