Here’s How Green Groups Get Their Agendas Implemented in the Administrative State, Bypassing Congress

Posted on Wednesday, May 1, 2024
by Outside Contributor
seal of Dept of the Interior; left's dark money network

Most Americans may not have heard of the Department of the Interior, but this powerful administrative agency oversees more than one-fifth of America’s land area and much of its mineral and ocean resources. The Left’s dark money network has wielded influence at this massive agency to undermine oil and gas production and advance less reliable wind energy.

Radical environmental groups such as the Sierra Club have sought to force Interior to restrict the approval process for oil and gas projects and to mark certain areas of the Gulf of Mexico off-limits for oil and gas leases.

Interior under President Joe Biden has used a process called “sue-and-settle” to foist such regulations on the American people without the approval of Congress.

Blocking Oil, Boosting Wind

In 2020, the Sierra Club and other groups, represented by the environmentalist law firm Earthjustice, sued two agencies of the Department of Commerce (yes, not Interior) under the Endangered Species Act, seeking to force restrictions on oil and gas in the name of protecting wildlife. In 2023, the Sierra Club and its allies reached a settlement with the agencies. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), an Interior Department agency that had not been a party to the lawsuit, released new rules restricting oil and gas leases in the Gulf, ostensibly to protect endangered Rice’s whales.

I say “ostensibly” because, as the American Enterprise Institute’s Benjamin Zycher explained in The Hill, those restrictions do not apply to the thousands of vessels engaged in fishing, construction of offshore wind energy facilities, or other activities in the area. As Zycher wrote, it seems BOEM considers it “unacceptable for an oil tanker to cause the death of a Rice’s whale, but if another vessel kills it, then it’s just the cost of doing business.”

Earthjustice celebrated the BOEM rules alongside the settlement.

In another case, the Sierra Club and other groups petitioned BOEM to “end a routine practice of fast-tracking approval for offshore oil and gas projects” in the Gulf of Mexico. Two months later, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a new five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Haaland bragged that Interior had planned for “the smallest number of oil and gas lease sales in history”—a maximum of three.

America’s largest fossil fuel industry association, the American Petroleum Institute, sued Interior to block the plan, warning that it puts American consumers at risk and threatens U.S. energy security.

On April 24, the Sierra Club praised new rules from Interior laying out the five-year schedule for offshore wind leasing. While Interior restricts oil and gas to three lease sales in the Gulf, it plans for 12 offshore wind auctions in federal waters between 2024 and 2028. In praising the plan, Sierra Club Legislative Director Xavier Boatright pledged to continue “collaborating with the Biden administration” on these issues.

Oil is cheaper and more reliable than wind energy. In 2022, petroleum accounted for 31% of U.S. energy production, while wind energy accounted for only 3.8% of it. Wind energy also involves harvesting rare earth minerals through strip mining, an intensive process with toxic byproducts. Yet Interior is investing in wind and turning away from oil, largely for ideological reasons.

Of course, the Left’s dark money network may also have something to do with those priorities.

The Left’s Dark Money Network

While Democrats have been obsessed with the Republican-leaning Koch brothers, a New York Times analysis shows that the Left’s dark money network spent more than comparable conservative groups. The left-wing Arabella Advisors and the Tides Foundation set up nonprofits to allow donors to pour money into specific projects, without disclosing what the money does.

The Arabella network group Sixteen Thirty Fund poured $3.6 million into the Sierra Club from 2014 to 2022, according to IRS records. Tides Advocacy, the 501(c)4 lobbying arm of the left-wing dark money Tides Foundation, gave the group nearly $1 million between 2018 and 2021.

The National Wildlife Federation

Meanwhile, the National Wildlife Federation, an environmentalist group that promoted Al Gore’s 2006 film “An Inconvenient Truth,” received nearly $1 million via Arabella nonprofits. The federation’s former employees now hold positions of power at Interior.

Four-year federation staffer Tracy Stone-Manning is now the director at the Bureau of Land Management. She notoriously sent a threatening letter to the National Forest Service in 1989 on behalf of eco-terrorists who spiked trees to cause physical harm to loggers. She later said she does “not condone tree-spiking or terrorism of any kind.”

Laura Daniel-Davis, who worked at Interior under President Barack Obama before joining the federation for three years, is now the second in command at Interior. She’s only in an acting role, however, because the Senate would not confirm her. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., opposed her for valuing the Left’s “radical climate agenda” ahead of Alaska’s energy production.

The National Wildlife Federation also takes credit for “climate-smart conservation,” a project it claims it developed with its “federal agency partners,” such as the National Park Service.

The federation’s close ties to Interior shouldn’t come as a surprise. A 2009 inspector general’s report found that staff at the Bureau of Land Management had worked so closely with the group that they may have violated the law. NWF staff wrote and edited official BLM materials. Much of this activity took place under President George W. Bush.

Pueblo Action Alliance

Haaland’s own daughter, 29-year-old Somah Haaland, has been heavily involved with the Pueblo Action Alliance, a radical left-wing group with ties to the Cuban government. In October 2021, the alliance helped lead a coalition of organizations known as “Build Back Fossil Free,” which rioted at the Interior Department, injuring Interior staffers.

As House Republicans wrote in a letter to Haaland, the alliance advocates “for the dismantling of America’s economic and political system and believe America is irredeemable because there is no ‘opportunity to reform a system that isn’t founded on good morals or values.’”

The alliance’s website states that it aims to “build international solidarity with the indigenous global struggle,” which “includes standing in solidarity with our Palestinian relatives by upholding their demands for ‘a permanent ceasefire, an end to the siege and illegal occupation in Gaza, and no more US/CANADIAN/UK military aid to Israel.”

Secretary Haaland appears in a video the alliance released. The video, narrated by her daughter, demands a moratorium on oil leases around New Mexico’s Chaco Cultural National Historical Park. In June 2023, Haaland shut down oil and gas opportunities in that area. The moratorium will cost the Navajo Nation, a rival tribe in the region that lobbied in favor of oil and gas development, $194 million over the next two decades, according to the Western Energy Alliance.

Ties between Haaland and the alliance, whose parent organization (the Southwest Organizing Project) received more than $1.3 million from Arabella network nonprofits, have raised ethics concerns. Haaland responded to those concerns by stating, “I believe that a reasonable person with knowledge of those facts would not question my impartiality.”

‘Derogatory Terms’

Finally, Interior recently convened a committee to reevaluate place names to remove “derogatory terms.” That seems noble, but Secretary Haaland named a divisive figure to the committee.

Kimberly A. Probolus had previously worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center to help with its project shaming officials into removing all public symbols of the Confederacy. The Tides Foundation sent the SPLC more than $1 million between 2018 and 2022. In a meeting of the Interior committee, she noted this previous work, expressing her gratitude for the chance to “continue to work toward racial and social justice” with Interior.

The SPLC, which has lobbied Interior on “historic designations,” praised Haaland for including Probolus, suggesting the committee use SPLC resources on symbols of hate.

“No one should have to visit a national park whose name is rooted in legacies of hate and white supremacy,” the SPLC’s Lecia Brooks said.

Yet the SPLC is far from a reliable arbiter of hate. As I wrote in my book, “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the center is notorious for putting mainstream conservative and Christian groups on a “hate map” alongside KKK chapters, scaring donors into ponying up cash.

If Interior wants to avoid being “derogatory,” it shouldn’t rely on the SPLC.

Left-wing groups, spurred on by the Left’s dark money network, have made broad inroads at Interior under Biden, steering land policy away from oil and gas. Since America’s methods of oil and gas extraction require the fewest carbon emissions of any country, restricting U.S. oil production will lead other countries to invest in it more heavily to meet demand, leading to more emissions globally, while also increasing gas prices here at home.

Tyler O’Neil is managing editor of The Daily Signal and the author of “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AMAC or AMAC Action.