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The deputy secretary of the Interior Department helps manage millions of acres of national parks, monuments, and public lands, as well as endangered species. (Photo: Getty)

Eco Groups: Trump's Interior Deputy Pick Is "Walking Conflict of Interest"

In letter to Senate, 150 organizations say David Bernhardt's industry ties "raise serious questions about his ability to act in the public interest"

Nadia Prupis

Scores of top environmental organizations on Wednesday sent a letter (pdf) to the Senate urging lawmakers to reject President Donald Trump's nominee for Interior Department deputy, energy lobbyist David Bernhardt, who the groups described as "a walking conflict of interest."

Bernhardt's industry ties "raise serious questions about his ability to act in the public interest," the letter, signed by 150 conservation groups, states. "Further, during his tenure as solicitor of the Department of the Interior, the agency's chief ethics officer, political appointees engaged in ethical lapses and decisions that sacrificed science and the environment to line corporate pockets."

If confirmed, Bernhardt would help Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke manage millions of acres of national parks, monuments, and public lands, as well as endangered species. His hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is set for Thursday.

"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, public lands director for the the Center for Biological Diversity, which spearheaded the letter. "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 [Environmental Protection Agency chief] Scott Pruitt to Ryan Zinke, and now David Bernhardt, Trump has assembled the most anti-environmental administration in history."

For example, the groups noted, Bernhardt's lobbying firm has a financial stake in a project that would pump groundwater in California to sell to private water companies. Another of his former clients is pushing for an open-pit copper mine in Arizona's Santa Rita Mountains to be approved.

Bernhardt also lobbied for legislation that would weaken water quality protections in California for the benefit of the state's massive agriculture industry.

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

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