David Bernhardt: Trump to nominate former oil lobbyist to run Department of Interior

'He was behind most of the pro-oil and gas policy decisions during Zinke’s tenure and will continue to deliver more of the same', Interior Department whistleblower tells The Independent of the nomination

Clark Mindock
New York
Monday 04 February 2019 16:46 GMT

Donald Trump has announced that he will pick former oil industry lobbyist David Bernhard to become the next Secretary of the Interior, where he will oversee the permit process for oil and natural gas drilling in a large swath of the United States.

“I am pleased to announce that David Bernhardt, Acting Secretary of the Interior, will be nominated as Secertary of the Interior”, Mr Trump tweeted on Monday.

He continued: “David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed!”

Mr Bernhardt is a Washington insider who, before joining the Interior Department during the Trump administration two years ago, lobbied on behalf of major oil companies during the Democratic administraiton of Barack Obama. During that time, Mr Bernhardt counted among his clients Samson Resources — the largest privately held cude oil and natural gas company in the US — as well as other heavyweights in the oil industry like Haliburton and the Independent Patroleum Association of America, which is a consortium of thousands of oil and gas companies across the US.

He has been serving as the acting secretary of the department since former Interior secretary Ryan Zinke resigned from the position last year amid ethics probes, including one into dealings between a foundation he created and the chairman of an oil company.

Before Mr Zinke’s departure, Mr Bernhardt had teamed up with the former secretaray in their push to expand drilling in the roughly 500 million acres of land under the Interior’s control. During the roughly two years Mr ZInke was at the helm, the department became known for its efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refugee for drilling, to expand offshore oil and gas drilling, and to limit the cut the number of animals protected by the endangered species act.

Representative Raul Grijalva — the new House Natural Resources Committee chiarman — had the following to say of the nomination: "David Bernhardt spent much of his career lobbing 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.

"We intend to conduct vigorous oversight of Mr. Bernhardt’s industry ties and how they may influence his policy decisions," Mr Grijalva continued in a statement following the nomination. "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".

Joel Clement, a senior fellow at the Union of Concerned Scientists and Harvard Kennedy Scool, told The Independent in an emai that the nomination was not all that surprising, and followed a trend of special treatment for the oil and gas industry during the Trump administraiton.

“Bernhardt was the obvious choice for an administration that wants to keep the handouts to the fossil fuel industry coming,” Mr Clement, a fomer Interior Department official who drew headlines early in the Trump presidency for blowing the whistle on what he saw as a war on science undertaken by the adminstration, said. “He was behind most of the pro-oil and gas policy decisions during Zinke’s tenure and will continue to deliver more of the same. The one difference now, however, is he will have to contend with the newly empowered democratic majority in the House and the new Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Representative Raul Grijalva”.

He continued: “Bernhardt’s nomination is pretty good news for the fossil fuel industry. It’s bad news for public lands, bad news for conservation, and bad news for transparency in government”.

Other environmental advocates also expressed exapseration with the decision.

“The ethical questions surrounding David Bernhardt and his commitment to pandering to oil, coal, and gas executives make former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke look like a tree-hugging environmentalist in comparison. And Ryan Zinke was a disaster,” Vicky Wyatt, lead climate campaigner for Greenpeace USA, said in a statement.

She continued: “We already let Bernhardt do enough damage to our federal lands and waters as deputy secretary — we have to stop him before he destroys some of this country’s best ideas including the Endangered Species Act“.

Mr Bernhardt, before his years working as a lobbyist representing oil and gas interests, previously held the position of solicitor for the Interior Department during the adminstration of George W Bush.

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