“I am pleased to announce that David Bernhardt, Acting Secretary of the Interior, will be nominated as Secretary of the Interior,” Trump tweeted on Monday.
“David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed!” he said.
Trump will have to send Bernhardt’s nomination to the Senate, where a majority of senators will have to approve him.
“It’s a humbling privilege to be nominated to lead a department whose mission I love, to accomplish the balanced, common sense vision of our President,” Bernhardt said in a statement Monday.
Bernhardt will lead an agency that oversees about 500 million acres as well as the energy production on that land.
He became the agency’s deputy secretary in 2017 and has led the department on an interim basis since former Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned amid ethics scandals in January. In the weeks since Zinke’s departure, Bernhardt has risen to the top of the list as the most likely candidate Trump would choose for the post, The Hill reported.The department has 70,000 employees in various agencies overseeing federal land, offshore drilling, endangered species and American Indian affairs, among other duties.
Bernhardt has worked at Interior in various capacities, including solicitor during the George W. Bush administration.
He has also had multiple stints at the lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, representing clients including Eni Petroleum, Sempra Energy, Halliburton Energy Services, Targa Energy, Noble Energy and the Westlands Water District.Under ethics standards, he has recused himself from matters involving so many former clients that he carries a card with him listing the recusals.Environmental groups immediately denounced Bernhardt’s nomination.
“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.
“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.”
“David Bernhardt’s nomination is an affront to America’s parks and public lands,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation group that has been vocally critical of the Trump administration.
“As an oil and gas lobbyist, Bernhardt pushed to open vast swaths of public lands for drilling and mining. As deputy secretary, he was behind some of the worst policy decisions of Secretary Zinke’s sad tenure, including stripping protections for imperiled wildlife.”
However, the industries Interior regulates have largely been supportive of Bernhardt.
“We have always been supportive of acting Secretary Bernhardt. We supported his nomination and would support him if the president decides to nominate him to be secretary,” Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters Monday.
Bernhardt’s nomination will go to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for an initial hearing, and then a vote before the full Senate.
Republicans hold 53 of the Senate’s 100 seats, so Bernhardt’s confirmation is likely to go through.
One of the most recent controversies surrounding Bernhardt involved the recent partial government shutdown, which furloughed most of Interior’s workforce.
He drew criticism after announcing the National Park Service would pull from their entrance fee revenue coffers in order to pay for the clean-up and maintenance of parks left up to the public during the shutdown.
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