For Immediate Release

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Chris Nagano, (916) 765-9097, cnagano@biologicaldiversity.org

Retired Interior Department Employees Urge Senators to Block Bernhardt

29 Retirees, With 737 Years of Service, Oppose Confirmation

WASHINGTON - Retired employees with a combined 737 years of service at the U.S. Department of the Interior today urged senators Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin to oppose President Trump’s nominee David Bernhardt as Interior Department secretary. The senators are chairwoman and ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, respectively.

Bernhardt will face the committee in a confirmation hearing on March 28. In their letter the 29 retirees write that Bernhardt, in his current position as the agency’s deputy secretary, “has been at the center of a culture of corruption that has been the Interior Department’s hallmark under the Trump administration.”

“Confirming Bernhardt as Interior secretary would be like dropping a bomb on America’s national parks and imperiled wildlife,” said Chris Nagano, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity who spent 27 years at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protecting endangered species. “He’s already twisted the law so powerful corporations can pollute our environment and suck up water from our rivers for agribusiness. The Senate shouldn’t endorse this guy’s appalling efforts to wreck America’s beautiful public lands.”

The former Interior employees who signed the letter worked at positions as high-ranking as national park superintendent. They spent their careers at the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the Office of the Solicitor.

Bernhardt has a long history of working to weaken protections for public lands and endangered species. He mastered his behind-the-scenes skills as a lobbyist and high-level official in the Interior Department. 

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As a longtime lobbyist for the Westlands Water District in California, he fought hard to block wildlife safeguards. After moving to Interior, he recused himself from working on Westlands issues. But just days after the recusal expired, in the summer of 2018, he began work on a controversial plan to roll back environmental protections and send more water to Central Valley farmers, including those in the Westlands Water District. This plan, if executed, would decimate threatened Delta smelt, Sacramento River salmon runs and the entire Bay Delta ecosystem.

While Bernhardt was Interior’s top lawyer under George W. Bush, he authored policies that sharply limited protections for endangered species. Just last year, with Bernhardt as its deputy secretary, the Interior Department proposed sweeping regulatory changes that would severely undermine the Endangered Species Act. The Act is credited with successfully keeping 99 percent of listed species from going extinct, including grizzly bears, California condors and Florida panthers. 

Bernhardt oversaw the assault on a previously approved plan to protect tens of millions of acres in the Great Basin that are critical for imperiled sage grouse. The new plan will strip protection from more than 30 million acres of the bird’s sagebrush habitat, while significantly expanding oil and gas drilling and other harmful activities. 

One Bernhardt policy precluded species like polar bears from protection against greenhouse gases, the primary threat to their survival. Another of his directives resulted in a rushed environmental review to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. 

“The American people want an Interior secretary who will stand up for them, not big corporations representing the 1 percent,” said Gail Kobetich, who was one of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s first endangered species biologists during a 31-year career with the Interior Department. “The Senate should vote against the confirmation of Bernhardt and send a message to Donald Trump that he must protect our public lands, wildlife and endangered species, not exploit and kill them.”

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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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