A Former Oil Lobbyist Is Now Officially in Charge of America’s Public Lands
The Senate voted to confirm former oil-and-gas lobbyist David Bernhardt as Secretary of the Interior Thursday, despite calls from Democrats and government watchdogs to investigate his past conduct, The New York Times reported.
The confirmation vote was 56-to-41, making Bernhardt—who has so many conflicts of interests he has to write them on an index card to make sure he doesn't deal with former clients—the least popular Interior Secretary in 40 years, the Center for American Progress (CAP) told The Washington Post. The second least popular was Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump's first pick to lead the Department of Interior (DOI), who resigned last year amidst a series of ethics investigations. A CAP analysis showed that Bernhardt bested his former boss in another respect: he has the most conflicts of interests of all 31 Trump cabinet-level nominees.
"It still amazes me," New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said of Bernhardt's nomination, as The New York Times reported. "Donald Trump campaigns on cleaning up the swamp and he does exactly the opposite when in office. An oil and gas lobbyist as head of the Department of Interior? My God. That's an example of the swampiness of Washington if there ever was one. And when are Donald Trump's supporters going to understand this?"
Bernhardt worked for the DOI under President George W. Bush, contributing to efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. He then spent seven years as a lobbyist with several fossil fuel clients including Halliburton; another of his clients was the powerful California utility Westlands Water District. Trump nominated him to serve as deputy secretary at DOI in April 2017, he was confirmed in July of that year and he has been acting as interior secretary since Zinke's resignation in December of 2018.
Democratic lawmakers and watchdogs have called for investigations into three of Bernhardt's reported actions, according to The New York Times.
- While at Interior, he reportedly acted to weaken endangered species protections for a California fish, an act that would benefit Westlands Water District.
- He continued to lobby on behalf of Westlands Water District up through the month of his April 2017 nomination, despite the fact that he had told the federal government he was no longer lobbying at that time, The New York Times reported.
- He blocked an about-to-be-released report detailing the risks posed by pesticides to more than 1,000 endangered species.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said he was shocked by that last revelation, reported in March. Shortly before, Bernhardt had come to Wyden's office and promised to abide by ethical standards.
"Why would you come to my office and lie?" Wyden asked Bernhardt during his confirmation hearing, The Washington Post reported.
Three Democratic Senators broke ranks with their colleagues to approve Bernhardt's confirmation: Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Krysten Sinema of Arizona and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.
Heinrich said that, since one-third of land in New Mexico is owned by DOI, it was important for the state to have a confirmed head of the agency, The New York Times reported.
"I need to be able to pick up the phone and talk to the Secretary of Interior on a regular basis. I'm not going to be able to get the Interior Secretary I wanted. We didn't win in 2016," he said, according to The New York Times. "But in New Mexico, I'm going to put my state and protection of public lands in my state first."
Heinrich had been the target of a campaign by the Western Values Project urging him to change his mind.
"Rushing to move forward with Bernhardt's nomination without clarification on his numerous ethical lapses and investigative requests is not only a disservice to the American people, but it also means that Interior will again be led by a secretary shrouded in scandal," Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger said in a statement on Bernhardt's confirmation. "Make no mistake: a vote to confirm David Bernhardt for Interior Secretary was a vote against our American birthright and the viability of our public lands for future generations."
The group noted that Bernhardt already had a poor record on public lands. He has been instrumental in the push to open millions of acres of public lands to oil and gas development and oversaw the decision to keep national parks open but understaffed during the government shutdown.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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