Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

3 Reasons the Senate Must Reject Bernhardt for Top Interior Post

Popular
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck

One hundred and fifty conservation groups sent a letter Wednesday urging U.S. senators to oppose the nomination of energy lobbyist David Bernhardt as top deputy in the Interior Department, citing his efforts to enrich corporations at the expense of the environment.


Bernhardt's confirmation hearing is set for Thursday before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Today's letter says Bernhardt's "conflicts of interest, industry ties and questionable judgment make him ill suited to lead the Department."

If confirmed as the chief deputy to Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke, Bernhardt would play a key role in directing the management of hundreds of millions of acres of national parks, monuments, forests and refuges as well as wildlife, including endangered species.

"Bernhardt has been called a 'walking conflict of interest' for good reason. He represents everything that's wrong with the Trump administration and the revolving door of politics," said Randi Spivak, the Center for Biological Diversity's public lands director.

"It's clear he'll put the interests of oil, mining and agribusiness above the interests of the American people, public lands and wildlife. From Scott Pruitt to Ryan Zinke, and now David Bernhardt, Trump has assembled the most anti-environmental administration in history."

Over the past 20 years, Bernhardt has taken full advantage of the revolving door between industry and government—including a stint as Interior's top lawyer under the George W. Bush administration. At the law firm of Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck he represented big agriculture, oil and gas, and mining companies. If confirmed, he will oversee the agencies that decide whether or not to allow mining, fossil fuel and other extractive projects on public lands to proceed.

Bernhardt's lobbying firm has a significant financial stake in the Cadiz project, which would pump groundwater beneath California's fragile desert and sell it to Southern California urban water agencies. Pumping would dry up the springs that feed Mojave National Preserve and Mojave Trails National Monument and harm bighorn sheep, bobcats and other wildlife. Bernhardt's lobbying firm could gain millions of dollars in additional stock if the Interior Department approves the permits necessary for Cadiz to move forward.

"David Bernhardt is absolutely the wrong choice for deputy secretary of the Interior. All you have to do is look at his record," said Bob Dreher, Defenders of Wildlife senior vice president of conservation programs.

"His work for the oil and gas industry and western water interests presents irresolvable conflicts with his responsibilities as deputy secretary, and casts doubt on his commitment to stewardship of the nation's lands, resources and wildlife. His past tenure at the Department of the Interior demonstrates a similar disregard for acting in the public interest to protect our shared natural heritage. We urge Congress to reject this nomination."

Another former client of Berhardt's is pushing to develop a massive open-pit copper mine in the scenic Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona. The Rosemont copper mine, now owned by Hudbay Minerals, would bury parts of the Coronado National Forest in toxic mine tailings. Bernhardt has also represented Cobalt International Energy, which was sued in 2014 for bribing foreign officials to obtain oil concessions.

When Bernhardt represented the Westlands Water District, he lobbied for legislation that would weaken water quality in the California Bay Delta to benefit large agribusiness interests in California and harm endangered species, including steelhead, salmon and the critically endangered delta smelt.

If confirmed, Bernhardt would be in a unique position to undermine the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's efforts to follow the best available science and implement proper conservation measures.

During Bernhardt's tenure as Interior's top lawyer in charge of ethics and legal compliance, the department was rocked by a series of high-profile scandals. Department staff interfered with the scientific integrity of the Endangered Species Act, and others were caught using cocaine and having sexual relations with members of the oil and gas industry. In addition, during that time a high-ranking department official was convicted of lying to the Senate regarding former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

In addition to the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, other groups opposing Bernhardt's nomination include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists and the Sierra Club. Collectively, these groups represent millions of supporters.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less
A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less
Left: Lemurs in Madagascar on March 30, 2017. Mathias Appel / Flickr. Right: A North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. National Marine Fisheries Service

A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.

Read More Show Less
Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular. Colin Dunn / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Julia Vergin

It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Data from a scientist measuring macroalgal communities in rocky shores in the Argentinean Patagonia would be added to the new system. Patricia Miloslavich / University of Delaware

Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.

EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.

Read More Show Less