Senators demand answers from Interior nominee on oil & gas leasing

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David Bernhardt, President Donald Trump's nominee to be Interior Secretary, testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing on March 28, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
he seems nice
David Bernhardt, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be Interior Secretary, testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing on March 28, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Nevada’s senators want more answers about oil and gas leasing from David Bernhardt before the full U.S. Senate votes on whether to confirm him as the next Interior Secretary.

With Bernhardt, a former energy lobbyist, expected to win approval as early as this week, Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen sent a letter to the nominee demanding answers about his actions “to limit opportunities for for the public to meaningfully participate in oil and gas leasing and development decisions for public lands.”

The senators said that since Bernhardt’s confirmation as Interior deputy secretary in July 2017, the department has instituted policy changes that “systematically eliminated or reduced opportunities for meaningful engagement by members of the public — as well as Tribes and state or local governments — in the oil and gas leasing and permitting processes.”

They pointed to a Jan. 2018 Bureau of Land Management oil and gas leasing policy that requires only 10 days of public input on proposed lease sales at the administrative protest stage. And a June 2018 policy encourages BLM to “employ all tools to avoid environmental review and the associated public participation” to evaluate leasing and drilling proposals, they wrote.

The letter, led by Cortez Masto, was also signed by Sens. Rosen, Chuck Schumer of New York, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Patty Murray of Washington, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Jon Tester of Montana.

“As public comment and environmental review has been curtailed or dismissed, DOI and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) pursued a reckless push for so-called ‘energy dominance’ that put over 18 million acres of public lands on the auction block for the oil and gas industry,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to immediately commit to reverse actions that limit public comment and to ensure that all stakeholders have their rightful say in how our shared public lands are used.”

The lawmakers urged Bernhard to commit to “restoring meaningful public participation and environmental review for all oil and gas leasing activities” ahead of the Senate vote on his confirmation.

Bernhardt is expected to win Senate confirmation largely along party lines. He won the Senate’s approval to be deputy secretary in July 2017 by a vote of 53-43. Bennet was among the handful of Democrats who broke ranks to vote for Bernhardt in that position, but the Colorado senator has said he won’t vote for Bernhardt to assume Interior’s top job.

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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