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Trump Nominates Fossil Fuel Lobbyist David Bernhardt As Interior Secretary

David Bernhardt nominated as Secretary of Interior - another example of the fox guarding the henhouse

Ryan Zinke served as the Interior Secretary until he resigned in disgrace in December after 17 ethical investigations. President Trump appointed David Bernhardt as the Acting Secretary of the Interior. On February 4, Trump announced in his favorite form of communication, a tweet, the nomination of Bernhardt as the Interior Secretary.

Who is Bernhardt? Open Secrets gives a run down of his resume:

  • He served as legal counsel for Rep. Scott McInnis (R-CO) from 1994 to 1998, and then he worked as a partner at the lobbying firm of Brownstein, Hyatt et al from 1998 to 2001.
  • Under President George W. Bush, he served as the deputy chief of staff to the Interior Secretary, the Interior Department’s solicitor, and as the U.S. Commissioner to the International Boundary Commission, U.S. and Canada.
  • When President Obama came to office, he became the head of the Brownstein, Hyatt’s energy, environment and resources division. In 2017, he was confirmed as Deputy Secretary of the Interior.
  • He became acting secretary after Ryan Zinke left the position.

Bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry

The oil and gas industry has paid Bernhardt $2.1 million during his lobbying career, according to Center of Responsive Politics. A Washington Post article notes that while working as a lobbyist he had so many conflicts of interest that he had to carry of list of them around with him.

“David Bernhardt spent much of his career lobbying for fossil fuel and agricultural interests, and the president putting him in charge of regulating his former clients is a perfect example of everything wrong with this administration,” said Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) said in a statement:

“We intend to conduct vigorous oversight of Mr. Bernhardt’s industry ties and how they may influence his policy decisions. This administration has lost the benefit of the doubt, thanks in no small part to Ryan Zinke’s failed tenure at the Interior Department. We expect Mr. Bernhardt to right the ship and will act in his absence if he doesn’t.”

Environmental groups oppose Bernhardt’s nomination

Environmental and conservation groups oppose Bernhardt’s nomination as Interior Secretary. Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger points out that Zinke’s “attacks on public lands and wildlife, as well as his repeated ethical lapses that led to 17 investigations…left the Interior Department in shambles and lost the trust of the American people.” Bernhardt “will pick up right where Zinke left off and continue selling out America’s public lands to the highest special interest bidders,” he adds.

The Interior Secretary should be someone without conflicts of interest who can oversee America’s public lands and waters. Bernhardt, however, “is a walking conflict of interest who has no business overseeing America’s public lands,” declares Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. Or as Nicole Ghio, Senior Fossil Fuels Program Manager for Friends of the Earth says, Trump nominated “a corrupt industry hack to lead a critical federal agency.”

The American people deserve better than another corrupt person to lead a federal agency, but Trump has demonstrated time and time again that he prefers corruption. The best thing we can do is keep a close eye on Bernhardt and his Interior Department. In the words of Ana Unruh Cohen, managing director for government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, “We will hold David Bernhardt accountable and block any efforts to put our natural heritage at risk.”

Indeed, we will.


Image credit: Bureau of Reclamation; courtesy Flickr

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