Former Energy Lobbyist Bernhardt Unqualified To Run Interior
March 28, 2019
Today, the Senate is holding a confirmation hearing for Trump’s nominee to run the Interior Department. Former energy lobbyist David Bernhardt is wholly dedicated to industry interests and does not deserve to be confirmed as interior secretary. See for yourself:
Former lobbyist David Bernhardt had so many conflicts of interest, he couldn’t remember them all.
Washington Post: “Having worked for years as a lobbyist representing many of the very businesses he now regulates, [David Bernhardt] walked into the no. 2 job at Interior with so many potential conflicts of interests he has to carry a small card listing them all.”
Huffington Post: “David Bernhardt, the deputy secretary of the Interior Department, met late last year with a trio of lobbyists for MGM Resorts International, the casino-resort giant that his longtime former employer also represents… Bernhardt is barred from participating in matters involving his former employer, lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Schreck, per the ethics agreement he signed last year.”
Former Bernhardt clients won at least 15 concessions from the Interior Department following Bernhardt’s appointment to the agency.
CNN: “Since Bernhardt joined the department in 2017, it has made at least 15 policy changes, decisions or proposals that would directly benefit Bernhardt’s former clients. In each case, the past clients shared comments or requests that the department’s actions have granted or aligned with, according to a CNN review. In some cases, the former clients wrote letters addressed to Bernhardt about those issues or lobbied his colleagues before those colleagues met with Bernhardt on those matters, according to documents.”
Bernhardt initiated a review of wildlife protections opposed by the Westlands Water District, a former client.
New York Times: “Mr. Bernhardt also worked as a lobbyist and lawyer for the Westlands Water District, which represents California farmers who have been fighting for decades against the delta smelt for access to the river water that both need to survive… In an interview, Mr. Bernhardt acknowledged that, in late 2017, four months after joining the Interior Department, he directed David Murillo, a senior water-resources official for the mid-Pacific region, to begin the process of weakening protections for the smelt and another fish, the winter-run Chinook salmon, to free up river water for agriculture.”
Bernhardt gutted protection plans for the threatened sage grouse, a victory for oil and gas industry interests that Bernhardt used to lobby for.
ThinkProgress: “Another former client on Bernhardt’s list of recusals — the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) — benefited when Bernhardt oversaw proposed revisions of sage grouse habitat management agreements.”
New York Times: “The plan, which would strip away protections for the bird on nearly nine million acres of land in the West — making it easier for oil and gas companies to drill on that land — was first detailed in a draft proposal published in December. The sage grouse plan is the latest step in a series of moves by the Trump administration to promote oil and gas drilling on public land, in support of what President Trump has called a policy of American ‘energy dominance.’ The architect of the plan, David Bernhardt, is a former oil lobbyist who now serves as acting head of the Interior Department.”
Bernhardt helped block the release of a study that found two key pesticides so toxic they “jeopardize the continued existence” of more than 1,2000 endangered species.
New York Times: “Their analysis found that two of the pesticides, malathion and chlorpyrifos, were so toxic that they ‘jeopardize the continued existence’ of more than 1,200 endangered birds, fish and other animals and plants, a conclusion that could lead to tighter restrictions on use of the chemicals. But just before the team planned to make its findings public in November 2017, something unexpected happened: Top political appointees of the Interior Department, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, blocked the release and set in motion a new process intended to apply a much narrower standard to determine the risks from the pesticides. Leading that intervention was David Bernhardt, then the deputy secretary of the interior and a former lobbyist and oil-industry lawyer.”
A newly uncovered recording from 2017 revealed executives from an oil and gas group bragging about “direct access” to Bernhardt.
Politico Magazine: “Dan Naatz, the association’s political director, told the conference room audience of about 100 executives that Bernhardt’s new role meant their priorities would be heard at the highest levels of Interior. ‘We know him 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,’ Naatz said, according to an hourlong recording of the June 2017 event in Laguna Niguel provided to Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.”
Politico Magazine: “Naatz predicted Bernhardt would actually run the department while Zinke would play a ceremonial role. ‘What secretaries of Interior do is go out to Yellowstone, go out to Tetons … have big vision for what they’re going to do,’ he said. ‘David is going to be the COO. David’s going to move the pieces. David’s going to be part of that, and we know him well.’”
Questions have now arisen over reports that Bernhardt’s office has been withholding his schedule from the public.
Washington Post: “The lawmakers are examining Interior’s practice of preparing ‘a daily card’ with Bernhardt’s detailed schedule on a Google document, but withholding that information from the public. The detailed accounting of the acting secretary’s meetings is prepared the evening before or at the start of the morning; the document is later overwritten to reflect his appointments for the following day. None of this the public gets to see. … Interior eventually shared hundreds of versions of Bernhardt’s daily card as part of 7,137 documents the department submitted to House natural resources late Monday.”