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Trump to nominate Bernhardt as Interior Secretary

“Are we jumping from one MeatHead to another?” ~ R.T.

President Donald Trump will nominate David Bernhardt to be the new Interior secretary.

President Donald Trump announced the plan to nominate acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to be the permanent secretary in a tweet today. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

The announcement in a tweet from the president Monday ends a nearly two-month-long search for a permanent replacement for Ryan Zinke, who in early December announced his resignation amid multiple scandals and ethics investigations. Bernhardt, who was confirmed as Zinke’s deputy in July 2017, has been acting Interior chief since the beginning of the year.

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

Bernhardt welcomed the nomination in a tweet of his own.

“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 wrote.

The Interior Department oversees a fifth of the U.S. landmass but has been hollowed out amid a lack of permanent leadership staff, critics have said.

Nine of Interior’s 17 political positions are empty, according to a list compiled by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an environmental group made up of government employees.

“There’s no secretary, no assistant secretary, no director of the parks service,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said. “Even the rollback machinery is grinding to a halt. It’s like The Wizard of Oz, but the levers don’t lead to anything.”

Industry groups cheered Trump’s announcement.

“He’s done an excellent job setting and implementing policy the last year and a half, so it will be a seamless transition,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of Western Energy Alliance, said in a statement. “As with EPA, the environmental groups forced the original cabinet secretaries out only to have the even more capable policy people who know the agencies in depth take over.”

Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for oil, coal and water interests before joining the Trump administration, will face criticism from Democratic senators and environmentalists over potential conflicts of interest stemming from past clients, sources said.

While at lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Bernhardt represented Freeport LNG, oil and natural gas producers Cobalt International Energy and Samson Energy, and California water distributor Westlands Water District, among other companies, according to lobbying filings. Bernhardt was also the longtime lobbyist for a powerful California irrigation district that has fought endangered species protections. Just days after his recusal expired this summer, he began work on a controversial plan to roll back environmental protections and send more water to Central Valley farmers, including those in the Westlands Water District.

Even some Bernhardt allies were wary of a messy confirmation fight before Trump announced the nomination.

“The Senate confirmation would be butt ugly,” one pro-Bernhardt lobbyist said last month.

Democrats and green groups have also questioned Bernhardt’s allowing Interior employees to continue processing oil and gas drilling permits during the government shutdown.

“Bernhardt got this nomination as a reward for months of work cramming America’s natural heritage into a wood chipper,” Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “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.”

15 replies »

  1. Our PUBLIC lands and resources are being sold off to the highest (dirtiest) bidder right before our eyes and what will be left for our future generations?


  2. From Center for American Progress

    The Favor Factory

    On August 3, 2017, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke spent his afternoon and evening with David Lesar, the chairman of oil services giant Halliburton.

    The details of Zinke and Lesar’s conversations are not yet known, but according to a participant in the day’s meetings, the main topic was not energy policy or oil production but instead a real estate deal in Whitefish, Montana, that would reportedly deliver private financial benefits to both men.2 The real estate deal; Zinke’s alleged use of public office for personal financial gain; and the question of whether Halliburton
    has improperly benefited from Lesar’s financial ties to Zinke have rightly attracted the scrutiny of watchdog groups, congressional investigators, and Interior’s inspector general.3

    Zinke’s own behaviors and actions—from his real estate deal with Lesar to his mixing of political, personal, and government business on taxpayer-funded trips—create an ethically questionable culture within the Department of the Interior’s leadership. Yet it is Zinke’s deputy secretary, David Bernhardt—previously a lobbyist on issues he now oversees—who appears to be a central figure in a carefully constructed clientelistic system for dispensing political favors. The authors of this report characterize this system as the Interior Department’s “favor factory.”

    David Bernhardt—who, until 2017, worked as a lobbyist and chairman for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s natural resources department—was among the individuals who benefited from Trump’s elimination of the two-year lobbying ban. Bernhardt now serves as deputy secretary of the Interior. The removal of the Obama-era provision allows people like Bernhardt, who have years of experience in the private and public sectors, to be able to oversee policies at the Department of the Interior that could benefit former clients.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Favor Factory

    Spotlight: Deputy Secretary Bernhardt’s revolving door

    Cadiz Inc.
    From 2010 through late 2016, private water company Cadiz Inc. paid Bernhardt and his former firm $2.75 million for legal and lobbying services.30 During the period in which Bernhardt was working for Cadiz, the company was seeking federal and state approvals of a controversial project to pump groundwater from an aquifer underneath the Mojave Desert and pipe it to cities in Southern California. Scientists warn that the proposed project would cause severe damage to the Mojave National Preserve and Mojave Trails National Monument.31

    Garrison Diversion Conservancy District
    Prior records show that, in April 2017, Bernhardt spoke to Garrison’s board of directors at a meeting, alongside two Brownstein lobbyists who were registered on behalf of the water district.40 On July 24, 2017, two days after the Senate approved Bernhardt’s nomination, Garrison affirmed that it was formally requesting permission from the Interior Department to use the McClusky Canal to draw Missouri River water.41 When Bernhardt was sworn in on August 1, 2017, he vowed to recuse himself from matters dealing with Garrison until just August 2018, despite having worked on its behalf up until his confirmation.42

    Eni Petroleum
    In his paperwork, Bernhardt recuses himself from working on issues related to the oil and gas company Eni Petroleum.47

    In April 2017, President Trump issued an executive order overturning the protections that former President Obama had put on Arctic waters.48 In August 2017, David Bernhardt was sworn in and recused himself from participating in matters related to Eni Petroleum; three months later, the oil and gas giant became the first company approved to drill in federal Arctic waters since 2015.49 On December 24, 2017, in an email to a reporter, Interior Press Secretary Heather Swift stated that employees from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) were “working through Christmas to get Eni permitted [for Arctic drilling],” noting that it would be a “nice Christmas present.”


  4. The Favor Factory

    Spotlight: Deputy Secretary Bernhardt’s revolving door

    State of Alaska

    In 2014, Bernhardt represented the state of Alaska in a lawsuit against the Interior Department that aimed to force the Obama administration to allow new seismic exploration in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the ultimate goal of allowing oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge.51 In 2015, a U.S. District Court judge ruled against the state of Alaska.52 Bernhardt and his firm were paid upwards of $250,000 for their work.53
    Less than two weeks after Bernhardt was sworn in as deputy secretary, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote a draft memo that would change three decades of precedent and allow seismic testing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.54 In December 2017, President Trump signed a sweeping tax measure into law, which included a provision that directs the interior secretary to create and administer a program to develop, produce, and lease the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain for oil drilling.55 Bernhardt appears to be personally and directly involved in the Trump administration’s efforts to rush its approval of seismic and drilling activities in the refuge, as indicated by repeated comments in the media about the environmental review process and personal meetings with senior officials from the state of Alaska.56


  5. The Favor Factory

    Spotlight: Deputy Secretary Bernhardt’s revolving door

    Cobalt International Energy
    Between 2010 and 2013, Bernhardt lobbied and provided legal services for oil exploration company Cobalt International Energy. His lobbying firm was paid almost $2 million by the company during those years.57 As of 2017, Cobalt still employs the lobbying company at which Bernhardt was a partner; Brownstein provides counsel for Cobalt regarding leasing and development on the outer continental shelf.
    Cobalt has benefitted from the administration’s focus on offshore drilling as well as a number of pro-oil and pro-gas decisions, including the rollback of a ban on new offshore drilling off the coasts of Florida and California and an expansion of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Atlantic,

    Noble Energy
    Bernhardt provided legal services to Noble Energy, a petroleum and natural gas production and exploration company,
    The company recently announced that it is selling off its Gulf of Mexico oil holdings but continues to hold federal oil and gas leases in the West.61
    Lobbying information from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that, in recent years, Noble Energy has frequently lobbied the Interior Department on issues relating both to oil and gas permitting and to the greater sage-grouse. Both issues are now under Bernhardt’s oversight.

    Westlands Water District
    From 2011 through 2016, Bernhardt served as both a lobbyist and lawyer for Westlands
    One of Westlands’ top priorities is to enlarge the Shasta Dam in the Sacramento Valley. The project would come at the expense of wildlife and recreationists, and it would potentially violate the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Advocacy groups have already filed suit over the project’s threats to endangered salamanders.70 Earlier this year, the Interior Department said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times that its ethics officers had reviewed Bernhardt’s agreement with the department and advised that it does not require his recusal from decisions on the Shasta Dam.71 Congress should scrutinize Bernhardt’s recusals and whether it is appropriate for him to participate in discussions surrounding the enlargement of the Shasta Dam.72



      How a rich water district beat the federal government in a secret deal
      Clout can be defined in many ways. In California’s parched Central Valley farmlands, it’s the ability to secure water.

      By that measure, the giant Westlands Water District has just set a whole new standard. In a legal settlement signed Wednesday with federal officials following lengthy negotiations, the 600,000-acre district secured a water supply for its members’ almond and pistachio trees and other crops in perpetuity, immunizing it from many of the cutbacks that may afflict other water users as climate change and other conditions reduce the reliability of California’s overall water supply. And it was all done in secret.

      To many critics, what’s worst about the deal is that it transforms Westlands’ 25-year contract for federal water into a permanent, non-reviewable right to as much as 895,000 acre-feet a year. That’s 150% of the annual usage of the city of Los Angeles. The deal prevents federal or state officials from ever diverting Westlands’ water to what might emerge as more beneficial uses in the future.


  6. The Favor Factory

    How the favor factory stays under the radar

    The calendars of senior Interior Department officials, for example, are public documents that, by law, must be released. The release of these calendars, however, is consistently delayed—some, like that of acting Solicitor Daniel Jorjani, have not been posted since May 2017. Furthermore, the calendars often lack basic information about the purpose of meetings, the topics discussed, or whom the officials are meeting with.74
    In addition, some of the publicly released calendars of senior Interior Department officials contain information that conflicts with other documents released under the FOIA, which suggests that calendar documents are being manipulated or sanitized for public release.

    In addition to questions about the integrity of senior officials’ calendars, Trump’s Interior Department appears to be systematically suppressing or delaying the release of other documents that should be released under the FOIA. In December, for example, it was reported that high-level agency officials were reviewing FOIA documents before they were released, with some directed to go directly through Zinke’s office before being released.78 Likewise, a watchdog organization—Western Values Project—has questioned how it is possible that, in the 628 pages of FOIA records released about the Trump administration’s review of sage-grouse conservation plans, the name of the person in charge of the review, Deputy Secretary Bernhardt, only appears twice.


  7. The Sierra Club

    BREAKING: Trump announced his nominee for Secretary of the Interior—David Bernhardt, a fossil fuel industry lobbyist and Ryan Zinke’s right-hand man.

    Trump’s chosen one of his worst appointees yet for Interior Secretary: former fossil fuel lobbyist David Bernhardt, a walking conflict of interest who has no business overseeing America’s public lands.

    As a lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry, Bernhardt represented dozens of companies with business currently being regulated by the Interior department. He has so many conflicts of interest he has to carry a card listing all of them. And as deputy to disgraced former secretary Ryan Zinke, Bernhardt was reportedly behind many of Interior’s plans to sell off America’s public lands and waters to fossil fuels companies—the same lands and waters he’s now in charge of “protecting.”

    We need to push back hard in the Senate, mobilize grassroots support, and do everything we can to stop this nomination from proceeding, in order to protect pristine public lands and vulnerable communities.

    The Interior Secretary should be someone who respects the mission of the department and sees the value in our public lands and waters beyond their capacity to be drilled, mined, or fracked—not someone who is going to help corporate polluters every chance he gets.

    We’re doing everything we can to fight back



  8. The Wilderness Society

    President Trump has announced his nominee for Secretary of the Interior, and he may be just as bad as Zinke for wilderness (or WORSE!).

    David Bernhardt is a long-time oil industry lobbyist and DC insider whose primary job should be protecting public lands from the very same people he used to work for.
    Prior to joining the Trump administration, Bernhardt worked at a lobbying firm representing the worst in Big Oil. His clients included fossil fuel companies and trade associations like the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

    Bernhardt served as Zinke’s Deputy Secretary and right-hand man who quietly executed Trump’s plans to sell out our public lands to the fossil fuel industry. When the department erased a chapter on climate change from its handbook, it was Bernhardt who signed that order. He’s called for a rollback of the federal Endangered Species Act, calling its protection of threatened species an “unnecessary regulatory burden.”
    He’s been described as a savvy lawyer with a razor-sharp legal mind who doesn’t come with all the ethical baggage that made Zinke so infamous. What this means for wilderness is that Bernhardt flies under the radar, quietly gutting protections for public lands and easing regulations for his friends in the oil and mining industry.

    We won’t let that happen.

    We have no doubt that Bernhardt will continue the Trump administration’s climate change-denying, drill-everywhere approach. He will stop at nothing to reverse protections for our publicly owned lands and make it easier for energy companies to drill, mine and pollute.


  9. Defenders of Wildlife

    Driven by Big Oil and special interests, this administration continues its reckless attacks on vulnerable species. In response, Defenders has filed a number of lawsuits to help protect endangered wildlife.

    What the Trump administration is doing to America’s wildlife is illegal, plain and simple. And the animals we love have never been in greater danger.

    In light of the administration’s many failures to do its job conserving imperiled wildlife, we’ve been launching an extraordinary number of lawsuits to save these animals.

    In my 20 years at Defenders, I’ve never seen so much aggression towards wildlife

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Endangered Species Coalition

    Donald Trump announced this week that he is nominating former oil, gas, and mining lobbyist David Bernhardt to be the next Secretary of the Interior.

    Send an email to ask your senators to oppose Bernhardt’s nomination to Interior Secretary.
    David Bernhardt is a longtime Washington insider with a long record of working to weaken protections for wildlife and wild places. He is described by some as “the ultimate DC swamp creature” due to his many years representing big polluters as a lobbyist and political appointee.

    Bernhardt was embroiled in scandal in the early 2000s when he removed independent government analysis from written congressional testimony and replaced it with reports from oil companies.

    Tell your senators you expect them to vote “NO” on the nomination of oil and gas lobbyist David Bernhardt to be the next Secretary of the Interior.

    He has most recently moved from his role as a DC lobbyist to work under disgraced former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke as his deputy. While in this role, Bernhardt helped to author some of the most egregious attacks on conservation that were carried out in the last two years.

    He engineered the largest rollback of federal land protections in the nation’s history, led the effort to upend the bipartisan sage grouse conservation plan, and devised a revision of the Endangered Species Act that will, among other things, allow money to be a guiding factor in endangered species listing decisions and do away with habitat protections, putting countless species at risk.

    If confirmed by the Senate, David Bernhardt would almost certainly continue on the same anti-conservation course set by Ryan Zinke because he was the one leading Zinke’s attacks. Our wildlife and wild places can’t afford to have an oil lobbyist in charge of endangered species protections and the millions of acres of public lands that he would oversee. Please email your senators today and ask that they stop Bernhardt’s nomination in the Senate by voting “NO” on his confirmation.

    Thank you for your commitment to wildlife and wild places.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks to Louie C. for posting all of this concise info on Bernhardt from so many dedicated groups.
    It appears that this creep was behind much of dirt bag Zinke’s manipulations, and if he is confirmed… it turns my stomach to think about how ruthlessly our Wild Horses & Burros will suffer even greater tortures and destruction.
    We all have to try harder to eliminate these gross power mongers from all spheres of the Interior and BLM, and most importantly to take the protection and management of Wild Equines out of their bloody hands entirely.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. FROM 2017:

    The Trump administration on Friday removed a major obstacle that had long stalled a project designed to pump groundwater from the Mojave Desert to communities in Southern California. The planned 43-mile pipeline would follow an already existing railroad through public land; the Bureau of Land Management sent a letter last week to Cadiz Inc., the company behind the pipeline, stating that the company did not need federal permission to begin construction.

    The announcement reflects the Trump administration’s determination to prioritize large infrastructure projects over environmental protections. The Cadiz project has drawn a lot of attention in Washington, D.C., both because of what’s at stake for the desert ecosystem and because it reflects a major shift in priorities from the Obama administration.

    The issue was prominent in the confirmation hearings for Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former industry lawyer whose clients’ businesses relied on decisions made by Interior. Bernhardt did legal work for Cadiz Inc., and a former law partner of Bernhardt’s is the president and CEO of the company. Bernhardt’s former law firm was paid in stock and stands to profit from the project’s success. Bernhardt told senators in his confirmation hearing that he would avoid conflicts of interest. Bureau of Land Management spokesman Jeff Krauss wrote in an email: “Deputy Secretary Bernhardt has played absolutely no role in anything related to the Cadiz project.”

    [PHOTO] Desert bighorn sheep are among hundreds of animals and plants that rely on rare surface water in the Mojave Desert. By David Lamfrom, NPCA

    The water would be pumped from wells on Cadiz’s private land, which is near the Mojave National Preserve and surrounded by the Mojave Trails National Monument. But many scientists and environmental groups oppose the project because of concerns that pumping enormous amounts of water out of the aquifer could deplete natural springs. The springs sustain habitat for rare wildlife in the desert such as tortoises and bighorn sheep.

    By constructing its project in the right of way of the California & Arizona Railroad, Cadiz avoids federal environmental reviews. The National Environmental Policy Act usually requires agencies to study major projects on federal land to determine potential impacts to endangered species, waterways and other important ecological features. “Knowing a federal environmental review would expose the dangers of its project, Cadiz has waited years for an administration willing to greenlight its plans without any real oversight. That gamble has clearly paid off,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in a statement Monday. “Cadiz is now set to drain more than three times the aquifer’s natural recharge rate, putting life in the Mojave desert at risk.”


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