After President Donald Trump announced via tweet on Monday that he is nominating former oil lobbyist David Bernhardt to replace scandal-plagued Ryan Zinke as head of the Interior Department, environmental groups described Bernhardt as yet "another puppet for corporate polluters" and urged the Senate to block his confirmation.
"Rather than give Bernhardt a promotion, Congress should be working on exposing his numerous conflicts of interest and ethics violations, as a fossil fuel lobbyist and now as a government official."
—Nicole Ghio, Friends of the Earth
"Trump has once again nominated a corrupt industry hack to lead a critical federal agency," Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels program manager for Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. "The Senate must reject Bernhardt because he will undoubtedly put his fossil fuel industry friends before the American people and our environment."
"Rather than give Bernhardt a promotion, Congress should be working on exposing his numerous conflicts of interest and ethics violations, as a fossil fuel lobbyist and now as a government official," Ghio added.
Bernhardt has been serving as acting Interior secretary since Zinke officially resigned from his post last month. As Public Citizen pointed out on Twitter, Bernhardt's nomination fits with a long-standing pattern the Trump White House has followed after high-profile cabinet departures:
Oil lobbyist David Bernhardt fits the trend.
At Interior: Unethical Zinke Out. Oil Lobbyist In.
At EPA: Unethical Pruitt Out. Coal Lobbyist In.
At HHS: Unethical Price Out. Pharma Exec In.
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In the Trump swamp, things are so bad they turn to lobbyists to cure ethical lapses.
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) February 4, 2019
As the New York Times reports, while Zinke was "the public face of some of the largest rollbacks of public-land protections in the nation's history, Mr. Bernhardt was the one quietly pulling the levers to carry them out, opening millions of acres of public land and water to oil, gas, and coal companies."
After working as a top Interior Department official in the George W. Bush White House, Bernhardt went on to lobby for oil and gas companies as a partner with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck before joining the Trump administration.
"The ethical questions surrounding David Bernhardt and his commitment to pandering to oil, coal, and gas executives make former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke look like a tree-hugging environmentalist in comparison," Greenpeace USA climate campaigner Vicky Wyatt said in a statement.
"Our new leaders in Congress can demonstrate respect for our country's most unique natural treasures by not only holding both Zinke and Bernhardt accountable for possible ethical violations, but by only confirming an Interior secretary who wishes to strengthen and protect public lands and waters, not destroy them for corporate gain," Wyatt concluded.