Recounting the Conflicts: Ex-Industry Lobbyist David Bernhardt's Hearing to Lead Interior Department

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David Bernhardt at his Senate confirmation hearing

This is a guest post from ClimateDenierRoundup.

Yesterday, David Bernhardt, who’s been the acting head of the Department of Interior (DOI) since Zinke was forced out late last year due to his many different scandals, faced a confirmation hearing to be the new head of DOI. And while Trump promised to drain the swamp, even swamp monsters are shocked by Bernhardt’s corruption.

You may remember Bernhardt as the guy who has so many conflicts of interest he has to carry them around on an easy-reference card to make sure he doesn’t violate ethics rules.

It's now apparent that while Bernhardt has claimed he doesn’t keep a personal calendar, it appears DOI is keeping track of his meetings in a Google calendar that is overwritten each day — a potential violation of federal records law. (Considering that calendars certainly came in handy for another Trump nominee, Bernhardt may want to be better about it.)

And people are worried about who Bernhardt’s meeting with for good reason.

He spent his career lobbying for oil and gas interests and against environmental protections. Naturally, this made him qualified to work at the DOI under the-supposedly-actually-not-that-bad George W. Bush. Some of Bernhardt’s highlights at Bush’s DOI included helping the attempts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and implementing the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which exempted the fracking industry from certain regulations and created the “Halliburton Loophole.” And as the Solicitor General he also, no joke, managed the ethics office.

After another lobbying stint, Bernhardt was brought back to DOI by Trump in 2017 as deputy secretary. Since then, one of his biggest adversaries has been the Endangered Species Act. Bernhardt led a national effort to weaken the act and directed a rollbackon protections for smelt, something he lobbied for on behalf of California farmers for years before joining the agency. The New York Times recently reported that in 2017, Bernhardt blocked a Fish and Wildlife Services report that found three widely used pesticides present a serious threat to hundreds of endangered species.

And Bernhardt wasted no time after being made acting head the agency. Just weeks after he took over, during the government shutdown, he approved 267 drilling permits, including many for his former clients.

Senators brought up lots of this sort of history at Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing.

Sen. Wyden (D-OR) called Bernhardt “so conflicted,” referencing his blocking of that Fish and Wildlife Service report on pesticides threatening endangered species. Wyden also referred to an audio recording obtained by the Center for Investigative Reportingfrom a February conference where a member of the Independent Petroleum Association of America bragged and laughed about how the industry has “direct access to” Bernhardt.

Wyden also questioned how Bernhardt can be effective as the head of DOI when he will have to disqualify himself from so many matters. But Bernhardt didn’t seem too concerned about that because although he has felt “handcuffed” by ethics rules, the two-year time limit for the restriction on working with former clients will soon be lifted.

The hearing mostly just rehashed Bernhardt’s swamp monster career, but did confirm that DOI is in the beginning stages of creating a new offshore drilling plan. This is likely the same plan that the Guardian reported on a few weeks ago, after a DOI official admitted to a group of fossil fuel industry leaders that Trump’s antics keep the media distracted, allowing them to work on projects like this.

You may be wondering how a man with such blatant conflicts of interest could be approved for this job, while the swamp monsters get escorted out of the hearing. We’re sure it has nothing to do with the fact that between 2013 and 2018, Bernhardt and his law firm gave more than $226,000 to members of the Senate panel voting on his nomination.

Safe to say, then, that the GOP-controlled Senate will confirm him and his pro-polluter, anti-people and anti-planet agenda. And given how much he values oil over animals, the only endangered species left will be swamp monsters — because that’s what Trump protects.

Main image: A “swamp monster” sits behind Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt at his Senate confirmation hearing. Credit: C-SPAN screen shot

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