In The Least Surprising Move Ever, Trump Nominates Former Industry Lobbyist To Head Interior Department


David Bernhardt, new Secretary of the Interior? Tami Heilemann/United States Department of the Interior

On Monday, Donald Trump announced his nomination for the Secretary of the Interior (via the medium of Twitter, natch) – acting head and former deputy, David Bernhardt. 

As Interior Secretary, Bernhardt would be responsible for 70,000 employees and 280,000 volunteers whose job it is to manage and sustain the nation's natural environment, including its animals and natural resources. The department directly oversees roughly a fifth of US land.


In a subsequent statement, Bernhardt called it a “humbling privilege to be nominated to lead a department whose mission I love, to accomplish the balanced, commonsense vision of our president". ("Balanced" and "common sense" being strictly subjective in this case.)

Former Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Bernhardt was promoted to acting head of the department late last year, following a series of ethics scandals that led to the resignation of Ryan Zinke. In the transition period, he has continued to carry out the de-regulatory, pro-industry policies of his predecessor, remaining loyal to the president's vision and, it appears, winning his (notoriously fickle) loyalty in return. 

Republicans have commended his extensive experience working with the Interior, as a political appointee under George W Bush, as Deputy Secretary under Zinke, and (controversially) as a lobbyist during the Obama administration. Fellow Coloradan Ken Buck praised his "tremendous leadership".


Meanwhile, Democrats and environmentalists have been quick to point out Bernhardt's history as a lobbyist – working on behalf of oil, gas, and agriculture clients – demonstrates a vested interest in industry that could very well come into conflict with his duties as department secretary.


As Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, puts it: "Bernhardt got this nomination as a reward for months of work cramming America’s natural heritage into a wood chipper."

"Confirming him as interior secretary would be a boon to polluters and a colossal disaster for our public lands and endangered species," he added,  AP reports.

US National Parks witnessed Hobbesian-like chaos when the Trump administration decided to keep gates open amid the shutdown. Bruce Roiff/Shutterstock

As acting head, Berndhardt has drawn criticism for attempts to loosen laws around the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and restrict the use of scientific data when it comes to writing policy, as well as his actions during the shutdown. These included financing the clean-up of national parks with entrance fee revenue and sending furloughed workers back to work on offshore drilling projects, while taking down environmental review websites

Bernhardt may have been nominated but to progress to Interior Secretary, he will first have to be confirmed by the Senate. Seeing as the Republicans currently enjoy a 53-47 majority, it looks very likely he'll succeed. 


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