Foe of Endangered Species, Public Lands Nominated for Deputy Interior Secretary

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Foe of Endangered Species, Public Lands Nominated for Deputy Interior Secretary

 David Bernhardt’s Lobbying for Mining, Oil, Development Special Interests Creates Swamp of Ethical Conflicts

WASHINGTON - Industry lobbyist David Bernhardt has been nominated for deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior, where he would directly oversee management of more than 1,600 endangered species and millions of acres of public lands.

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 — and the law firm of Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck, where he represented big agriculture, oil and gas, and mining companies.

“Appointing a lobbyist like Bernhardt shows just how empty Donald Trump’s promise to drain the swamp was,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “From Scott Pruitt to Ryan Zinke, and now David Bernhardt, President Trump has assembled the most anti-environmental administration in history.”

Bernhardt has represented a who’s-who of special interests, including Rosemont Copper, which is behind a push to develop a massive open-pit copper mine in the scenic Santa Rita Mountains, south of Tucson, Ariz. Bernhardt has also represented Cobalt International Energy, which was sued in 2014 for bribing foreign officials to obtain oil concessions. Bernhardt will now oversee the agencies that must ultimately decide to allow which mining and fossil fuel projects to proceed.

Bernhardt has also represented the Westlands Water District and lobbied on its behalf for legislation that would weaken water quality in the California Bay Delta to benefit large agribusiness interests in California. That would, in turn, harm endangered steelhead, salmon, and the critically endangered Delta smelt. 

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

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“David Bernhardt will be the go-to guy that helps Rep. Rob Bishop try to repeal the Endangered Species Act,” said Hartl. “In his long career taking advantage of the revolving-door of special interests, Bernhardt has always sided with big business at the expense of our most imperiled wildlife. If confirmed he’d be a disaster for all endangered species.”

During Bernhardt’s tenure as Interior’s top lawyer, the department was racked by a series of high-profile scandals. One involved political tampering with decisions about endangered species protections by the Fish and Wildlife Service — decisions that are supposed to be based solely on science. Additionally, employees from the Minerals Management Service were found to have used cocaine and had sexual relations with members of the oil and gas industry, and department officials were convicted of lying to the Senate regarding former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. 

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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