Several top Biden administration officials openly disagreed with a decision to resume oil and gas leasing, even applauding a Democrat lawmaker’s condemnation of the action, according to internal emails obtained by Fox News Digital.
On Aug. 16, 2021, Interior Department (DOI) Deputy Assistant Secretary Steven Feldgus forwarded a press release – according to the emails obtained by watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust and shared with Fox News Digital – from Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the then-chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, to Nada Wolff Culver, Laura Daniel-Davis and Amanda Lefton, three fellow senior DOI officials overseeing key energy policy.
“Holding more lease sales under today’s outdated standards is economically wasteful and environmentally destructive, and everyone not sitting in a fossil fuel boardroom knows it,” Grijalva said in a statement included in the release.
The release came moments after Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that her agency would proceed with fossil fuel leasing in response to a June 2021 federal court ruling that struck down President Biden’s moratorium on leasing issued during his first week in office. But Grijalva’s release, echoing environmental groups at the time, stated that Haaland had the authority to keep leasing paused while the DOI reviewed its federal oil and gas program.
“That’s an excellent response,” wrote Culver, the principal deputy director of the DOI’s Bureau of Land Management, in response to Feldgus’ email with Grijalva’s release, blasting Haaland’s actions.
“It sure is,” Daniel-Davis, the DOI’s principal deputy secretary for land and minerals management, added 10 minutes later.
And Lefton – who at the time was the director of the DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management but has since left the administration for a green energy consulting firm – simply wrote, “Yes,” joining in on the other officials’ praise of Grijalva’s statement.
The communications provide insight into how senior Biden administration officials openly disagree with their own agency’s decision to auction public lands and waters to the fossil fuel industry. And they further show how officials continued to oppose traditional energy development even as the DOI both scolded companies for sitting on existing leases and boasted that oil production is increasing.
“These conversations reveal how at odds some officials are with the policies they’re entrusted to develop and implement,” Michael Chamberlain, the director of Protect the Public’s Trust, which recently obtained the emails via an information request, told Fox News Digital.
“DOI leadership’s hostility to fossil fuel development seems to be matched only by their efforts to hide that hostility,” Chamberlain continued. “How can the public trust its government with so much inconsistency between the private and public statements of officials like these?”
The three officials – Culver, Daniel-Davis and Lefton – have all previously worked for various left-wing environmental activist groups, including the Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation and the Nature Conservancy, which advocate for policies that would significantly curb domestic fossil fuel production. Feldgus, who shared Grijalva’s release, most recently worked as a senior adviser to Grijalva.
The DOI declined to comment, but a spokesperson suggested the communications were consistent with DOI policy.
As part of Haaland’s announcement in August 2021, she said the DOI would appeal the court ruling that axed Biden’s oil and gas leasing moratorium. The agency continued to litigate the issue until August 2022, when the court permanently killed the policy
While it argued in favor of the moratorium in court, though, the DOI modified the federal oil and gas leasing program in April 2022 and ultimately held the administration’s first onshore lease sales months later. The agency was subsequently sued by environmental groups for holding the sales in a case that remains ongoing.
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