Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is as Bad As His Predecessor

With conflicts of interest and connections to oil companies seeking access to western lands, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is no better than his scandal-ridden predecessor Ryan Zinke.

After enduring President Trump’s first Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, his latest one, David Bernhardt has to be better. Zinke resigned after multiple investigations into his conduct while Secretary and real estate deals in his home state of Montana. In other words, Zinke was one shady Secretary. 

Bernhardt is as bad as Zinke

Bad news, concerned citizen. Bernhardt is just as bad. The Washington Post calls him “Zinke #2.” One of the reasons why he has earned that moniker is due to the decisions he has made concerning Western states with “little or no input from their constituents,” according to the Western Values Project. A recent meeting with governors of Western states serves as a good example of the kind of Interior Department Bernhardt is running. Four employees of oil corporations were present at the meeting. Those oil corporations are members of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), which is his former client. 

Another example of why Bernhardt is as bad as Zinke happened after being appointed as the Interior Secretary. The Interior’s Office of Inspector General opened an investigation four days after his Senate confirmation into ethics complaints. The Office of Inspector General received a total of seven complaints concerning Bernhardt, according to a letter sent to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Richard Blumenthal in April. 

The Western Values Project created a mobile billboard to remind Western governors and others who attended the meeting that Bernhardt is beholden to special interests. The mobile billboard directed viewers to the website, departmentofinfluence.org which details the influence of special interests in the Interior Department. Looking at the site’s information on Bernhardt, it is clear that oil and gas companies rank high with him and environmentalists rank low. 

Weakening protection for the sage grouse

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To grasp just how dangerous Bernhardt is to conservation efforts in the U.S., all one has to do is look at his plans for sagebrush habitats. The Interior Department released final versions of land management plans for sagebrush habitats in March. The plans would weaken the 2015 historic conservation agreement for the sage grouse, a bird only found in sagebrush in the western U.S. It is a bird that has disappeared from much of its former range, according to the Audubon Society. The loss of its habitat is due to clearing for farmland, overgrazing, and energy development. 

Oil and gas companies with ties to Bernhardt own 20 percent of all federal oil and gas leases on sage-grouse habitat in five Western states, analysis from the Center for Western Priorities found. The Interior’s plans for sagebrush habitats eliminates requirements to prioritize drilling outside of the sage grouse’s habitat. The plan covers 50 million acres of public lands. 

“This map shows why David Bernhardt was too conflicted to work on anything related to sage-grouse at the Interior Department,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director at the Center for Western Priorities. 

“But earlier this month, Bernhardt admitted that he was working on these plans from his very first day back at Interior.”

Just a few weeks after the Interior released its plans, conservation groups filed a lawsuit against Bernhardt and the Bureau of Land Management over those plans. The lawsuit filed in U.S. Distrcit Court in Boise “identifies Bernhardt as the architect of recent policy changes adopted by the Trump administration to rescind or weaken the 2015 plans on BLM land in seven states with most of the remaining sage-grouse populations ― Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, California and Oregon,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit. 

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