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David Bernhardt and President Trump Photo: Joshua Roberts, Reuters
The Trump Administration did the expected and yesterday nominated Acting Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist and the top lawyer at Interior under Bush ’43 to take the top slot and officially replace Ryan Zinke. Most industry experts expect that he will continue to push for expanding oil and gas drilling, fracking and mining on federal lands. According to Reuters, as a lobbyist for a large D.C. firm, his clients included Noble Energy Inc, Rosemont Copper Co, Sempra Energy, and California’s Westlands Water District, and The New York Times said he also represented the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Halliburton Energy Services, the oil- and gas-extraction firm once led by former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Mr. Bernhardt has been the agency’s Deputy, a role in which many of the policy details were delegated to him to develop because of his experience in the industry and in the Department.
According to The Times, after the President ordered most of the U.S. coastline to be opened for oil and gas drilling, Bernhardt developed the plan for leasing offshore tracts that Secretary Zinke boasted would create “a new path for energy dominance in America.”
A former lawyer who served with him called him “a rare ‘lawyer’s lawyer’ who prepares thoroughly for meetings, often being the only one in a room to have read full environmental assessments of projects and plans,” according to Reuters.
Secretary Zinke left the Interior Department at the beginning of January after a series of ethical lapses resulted in a Justice Department investigation of his conduct in office. Bernhardt announced last Friday that fixing the lax ethical program at the Department would be a top priority for him. But The Hill reported that Bernhardt blamed Obama appointees for what he called “an avalanche of ethical misconduct” (while pointing out only one such issue) and never mentioned his predecessor’s ethical issues or his own potential conflicts of interest with former clients. Mr. Bernhardt was only narrowly confirmed to be the Deputy Secretary of Interior and Democrats have vowed to scrutinize his nomination to be Secretary.
Why This Matters: If confirmed, Bernhardt would be a much more formidable Secretary than the prior one — as I (Monica) wrote in Bright Ideas a few weeks ago. He knows the law, how to get things done in the Interior Department, and as a creature of Washington, he wants to leave the job in good standing so he might return again in some future Republican administration. His “vow” to clean up the “mess” at the Interior Department would be a good one if only he appreciated what needs “cleaning up.” But his failures both to call out Secretary Zinke’s ethical (and potentially criminal) issues and to be transparent about his own conflicts of interest and what he will be recused from going forward fundamentally undermine his credibility to lead the agency.
by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer A new study released by Conservation International found that tuna populations will likely be pushed from the waters of 10 Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS) due to climate change. For nations that rely on tuna as a source of food and income, the consequences could be devastating. Conservation International urges the global […]
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer Earlier this month, devastating floods washed through western Germany, leaving people dead and swaths of cities destroyed. It was the worst flooding Central Europe has seen in decades, and the short, intense rainfall is “one of the hallmark manifestations of a human-warmed climate,” as Yale Climate Connections put it. […]
by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer Carbon border taxes are gaining popularity in North America and Europe, but many are skeptical that taxing imports from countries with weak emissions policies will encourage climate action. Others are calling border taxes unjust. John Kerry, the U.S. Climate Envoy, called border tax policies a “last resort.” Nevertheless, Congressional Democrats have already proposed one […]
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