Bernhardt confirmed as Trump’s Interior Secretary

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Demonstrators outside of the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill ahead of a confirmation hearing for David Bernhardt, March 28, 2019. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
conflicted up
Demonstrators outside of the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill ahead of a confirmation hearing for David Bernhardt, March 28, 2019. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to confirm David Bernhardt, a former oil and mining lobbyist and George W. Bush administration official, to become the next U.S. Interior Secretary.

The nomination was approved by a vote of 56-41, largely along party lines. Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico voted for his confirmation, as did Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.

Bernhardt will now take the reins of an agency that manages 70,000 employees and 500 million acres of federal land — including 48 million acres in Nevada. He’s one of the more controversial figures in the Trump administration; his critics accuse him of minimizing environmental concerns in favor of pushing President Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda.

“I voted no on Mr. Bernhardt’s confirmation because of his long history as an oil and gas lobbyist and his focus on fossil fuels, which undermines Nevadans’ access to clean air and clean water,” said Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who has been critical of Bernhardt’s nomination. “This nominee clearly has the wrong priorities and reflects an Administration that refuses to act on climate change. I’ll do all I can to take on this Administration as it continues to threaten our public lands and refuses to act to protect our future and our states’ sacred heritage.”

The Colorado native has been deputy secretary of Interior since July 2017 and has served as acting secretary of the department since January. Trump’s first Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, announced his resignation late last year as he faced a flurry of ethics investigations.

Bernhardt was previously a lawyer and lobbyist in the Denver office of the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, where he lobbied on behalf of oil, gas, coal and water interests. He also lobbied for Hudbay Minerals, the owner of the proposed Rosemont copper mine near Tucson, Ariz.

He’s come under fire from Senate Democrats and environmentalists who warn of potential conflicts of interest. In fact, his lobbying history has left him with so many potential conflicts of interest that he carries a small card listing them all, The Washington Post reported.

Bernhardt told senators at his confirmation hearing in March that he has followed ethics guidelines by recusing himself for up to two years from decisions that could affect his former clients. But when the requirement for those recusals expire this August, Bernhardt said he no longer intends to step aside.

Under Trump, Bernhardt is credited with advancing policies to speed up approval for drilling projects and ease Endangered Species Act protections since becoming the No. 2 official at Interior. 

Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender is the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for The Newsroom, a network of state-based non-profit news outlets that includes Nevada Current.

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