The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Jayson O’Neill (406) 200-8582

Former Oil Lobbyist-Turned Interior Secretary to Ignore Judges Ruling on Sage-Grouse Rollbacks

Bernhardt continues to prioritize big oil and gas special interests despite pandemic and calls for invoking the 25th amendment.


Earlier this week, Trump's Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management indicated that the administration's final sage-grouse habitat rollbacks done at the behest of Big Oil and Gas special interests are complete -- despite a district judge's order to provide further analysis and justification for the moves based on the best available science. The rollbacks are set to ease protections in critical greater sage-grouse habitat on public lands across seven Western states for industrial oil and gas drilling and mining interests.

"Absent reasonable justifications and sound science, self-proclaimed sophisticated natural resource lawyer and former oil lobbyist turned-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and former industry front-group lawyer leading the BLM, William Pendley, appear to be completely ignoring the court rulings at a great cost to American taxpayers and our wildlife. The legal morass and regulatory uncertainty created by these conflicted Trump officials are an utter disservice to our public lands," said Jayson O'Neill, Western Values Project director.
The announcement by Interior and the Bureau of Land of Management (BLM) claimed 'that no further land use planning or environmental analysis is warranted' in a direct rebuke to the Wyoming district judge's order. Audubon previously reported on the judge's ruling that temporarily halted the rollbacks of essential protections for sage-grouse habitat--home also to some 350-plus other species, including mule deer, elk, and pronghorn.

Conflicted Interior Secretary Bernhardt quickly began working with dispatch to roll back habitat protections shortly after being appointed by the Trump administration to be the agency's deputy secretary in 2017. Western Values Project previously exposed the oil industry and Bernhardt's former clients' close working relationships with Interior and the BLM that raised serious ethical and conflict of interest questions. Bernhardt and the BLM's William Pendley have nearly 80 known industry related conflicts of interest between them. The duo is arguably the most conflicted land managing appointees in U.S. history.

Additionally, Karen Budd-Falen--Interior's Deputy Solicitor for Parks and Wildlife and "darling of the Sagebrush Rebellion"--has serious conflicts of interest concerning her ownership stake in a ranching empire spanning across hundreds of thousands of acres overlapping prime sage-grouse habitat.
"The fact that this continues to be Secretary Bernhardt's top priority in the middle of an ongoing pandemic and illegal insurrection attempts by Trump supporters is appalling," added O'Neill.
The Trump administration is pushing to finalize major rollbacks and rule changes that would undermine wildlife protections and exploit public lands before the clock strikes midnight. Through the looming insurrection attempts, 25th Amendment and impeachment vote, Trump's former lobbyists in cabinet positions continue to act on behalf of their former clients and solidify Trump's legacy as the worst public lands and environmental administration in history.

Western Values Project brings accountability to the national conversation about Western public lands and national parks conservation - a space too often dominated by industry lobbyists and their allies in government.