His name is David Bernhardt, and he is Trump’s latest pick to head the Department of the Interior, since Ryan Zinke resigned last year in the spotlight of several ethics probes. Zinke was bad enough … Bernhardt, if confirmed by the Senate, may well be worse. Bernhardt has been serving as Deputy Secretary of the Interior since August 2017, and thus has been acting secretary since Zinke’s departure.
Where to even start? This guy is, like so many of Trump’s other cabinet choices, the worst possible candidate for the job! First, he is a former oil lobbyist, which sets up potential conflicts of interest in itself. If confirmed, he will become one of two former fossil fuel lobbyists overseeing the nation’s top environmental agencies. The other is Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who heads the Environmental Protection Agency. Between them, these two are in a position to cause much destruction to our environment.
As a partner in the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Bernhardt lobbied for the oil companies Cobalt International Energy and Samson Resources. His legal clients included the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents dozens of oil companies, and Halliburton Energy Services, the oil and gas extraction firm that was led by Dick Cheney before he became vice president to George W. Bush.
Thus far, while overseeing the Department of Interior, Bernhardt has …
- Put forth a plan that opens up more land to oil and gas drilling than any other single policy action by the Trump administration, while at the same time stripping away protections from about nine million acres of wild life habitat.
- Put forth a plan that would allow the federal government to lease almost any part of the United States coastline to oil and gas companies for offshore drilling.
- During last year’s 35-day government shutdown, Bernhardt managed to obtain approval for 15 new leases for drilling on public lands as well as 71 new permits for offshore drilling. More than 50 recipients of the offshore drilling permits were companies that sit on the board of directors of the National Ocean Industries Association, a former client of Mr. Bernhardt’s. (Note that while his department is also responsible for conservation, maintaining national parks and permitting renewable energy programs, none of those functions were operative during the shutdown)
- Intervened to block the release of a scientific report revealing the threat presented by three widely used pesticides to hundreds of endangered species (See New York Times investigative report). Bernhardt claims the NYT article is “not even close to true”, however I would disagree, knowing full well the integrity with which the Times do their research.
- Has worked to loosen key provisions of the Endangered Species Act and to weaken safety and environmental rules on oil and gas drilling equipment.
- Proposed a budget that would cut funding for the National Park Service by nearly $500 million, cut the budget for the Fish and Wildlife Service by $267 million, as well as cuts to other services including wildfire management (remember last year’s wildfires in California?)
Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing was held in the Senate on Thursday. Predictably, he was praised by republican senators.
“David Bernhardt is an honest man who puts all his cards on the table and keeps his word. He is a champion of conservation. There is zero question that Mr. Bernhardt is qualified to do this job.” – Senator Cory Gardner, Colorado (An “honest” man??? HAH!!! Trump would never nominate an honest man!)
It should be noted that Senator Gardner has received $47,000 in campaign donations from Bernhardt’s former lobbying firm.
“I intend to move Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination as expeditiously as possible. He is ready for this job and has demonstrated he can handle everything it entails.” – Senator Lisa Murkowski, Alaska (How much money did you receive from Bernhardt’s former lobbying firm, Ms. Murkowski???)
However, the democrats in the senate were a bit more discriminating. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon mentioned Bernhardt’s blocking of the previously mentioned scientific report, saying …
“Mr. Bernhardt, you came to my office to tell me that you were the guy who stood up for ethics in the George W. Bush administration. You asked to come to my office to say your ethics are unimpeachable. But these documents make it look like you’re just another corrupt official. Why would you come to my office to lie to me about your ethics? Just like Julie MacDonald, you meddled in the science.”
Environmental groups are speaking out against Bernhardt’s confirmation as well.
“Bernhardt got this nomination as a reward for months of work cramming America’s natural heritage into a wood chipper. He’s already done more damage to our environment than anyone else in Interior Department history. Confirming him as Interior secretary would be a boon to polluters and a colossal disaster for our public lands and endangered species.” – Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity
“With nearly two dozen former clients that have business before the agency, David Bernhardt is a walking conflict of interest who is uniquely unfit to serve as Interior Secretary.” – Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities.
Three Greenpeace activists donned ‘swamp monster’ masks as they sat in the audience at the hearings …
Perhaps Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said it best …
“Let’s not put big oil in charge of the Interior Department. Today’s Senate confirmation hearing shows that oil lobbyist David Bernhardt is dangerous to America’s public lands and waters and can’t be trusted to be our Interior Secretary. Big oil is literally laughing about the access they have to this administration. His answers today demonstrated his deep conflict of interest and his unwillingness to come clean about his record of mothballing an analysis of dangerous toxic chemicals. The Senate should reject this deeply flawed nomination and prevent this ethics nightmare.”
In the end, none of his conflicts of interest will matter to the republican-dominated, boot-licking, ass-kissing senate who are nearly certain to confirm Bernhardt, but it should matter to We the People, for we are the ones who will suffer from the destruction of our home, planet Earth.