The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

New FOIA Documents Reveal More Industry Influence at Interior

Bernhardt’s Former Client, Independent Petroleum Association of America, Appears to Have Influenced Decisions by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services 


A new analysis of public documents exclusively obtained by Western Values Project reveal extensive communication by an industry association that may have influenced public lands and wildlife management decisions at Interior.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), a former client of Secretary Bernhardt, were in frequent contact with now Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management Casey Hammond and former Acting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Greg Sheehan, including making a request to delist an endangered species that was later proposed by the agency. Sheehan has since stepped down from his position.

"We've seen this behavior from Secretary Bernhardt's political cronies before - industry gets what they want from Interior at the expense of our public lands and wildlife. The culture of corruption at Interior starts at the top but it doesn't end there. Given the level of coordination between Interior political appointees and special interests, it's not surprising that Bernhardt is now violating the law by delaying and limiting public document releases," said Chris Saeger, Western Values Project Executive Director.

The documents revealed that in an August 2017 email, IPAA's director of government relations Sam McDonald sent then-U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Acting Director Greg Sheehan a letter partially explaining why the industry association wanted the agency to delist the American Burying Beetle. Fast forward and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) released a proposed rule to delist the American Burying Beetle, an effort that left the biologists and researchers 'shocked and disappointed.' An email by IPAA's McDonald was sent to former Interior political appointee Vincent DeVito around the same period.

Sheehan also met with IPAA's Sam McDonald and senior vice president Dan Naatz on June 30, 2017 to hear their "concerns," where they appreciated his "willingness to help." Naatz was caught on audio laughing about the access he had within the Trump administration saying, "We know him [Bernhardt] very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues."

IPAA's Naatz also reached out to the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Casey Hammond about their difficulties with staffers in the New Mexico BLM office, claiming Resource Developments Units (RDUs) were "not fully vetted through Washington" and may be terminated. Hammond suggested Naatz reach out to Kate MacGregor, another Interior political appointee, instead.

The documents released from Acting BLM Director Casey Hammond's communications with IPPA also revealed a partial list of the industry association's membership. IPAA does not list its members publicly, instead choosing to lobby as a front group for the oil and gas industry.

The partial list of IPAA memberships was included after correspondence concerning Deputy Director of External Affairs Tim Williams and then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond arrangement to speak at IPAA's 2017 Regulators' Forum. It included 16 different oil and gas corporations: Shell, Chesapeake Energy, QEP Resources, PDC Energy, Huntley & Huntley, Cimarex Energy, Pioneer Natural Resources, Noble Energy, US Energy Stream Inc, Encana Oil & Gas, SK Plymouth, Whiting Petroleum, Concho Resources, Hess, SM Energy, and American Exploration & Production Council.

WVP previously documented industry's influence on Secretary Bernhardt's overhaul of state sage-grouse habitat management plans. Recently, WVP filed suit against the Interior Department, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for unfulfilled public records requests.

Western Values Project brings accountability to the national conversation about Western public lands and national parks conservation - a space too often dominated by industry lobbyists and their allies in government.