A senate committee gave President Donald Trump’s nomination for the second-highest ranking position in the Department of the Interior the go-ahead last week to move to the final step in the confirmation process. If confirmed as Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt will act as Secretary Ryan Zinke’s right hand, supervising the DOI and heading it in his absence. That means the Colorado native may soon be second-in-command at the department that is responsible for much of the country’s natural resources and millions of acres of federal lands. Before the full senate vote, here are five things you should know.
1. He recognizes climate change is a problem, with caveats.
During Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in May, Senator Al Franken asked him if he believed in “aggressive action” to stop climate change. Bernhardt said he believed in climate change, but didn’t fully commit to fighting it. “My task will be to take the science as we find it, put it in the paradigm of the administration’s policy perspective, which is ‘We’re not going to sacrifice jobs for this,’ and then look at the legal rubric, and say, ‘How do we apply the law there?’ ” he said.
2. He lobbied for the energy industry.
Many environmental groups cite Bernhardt’s lobbying activity for oil, gas, and mining interests as a concern. He works as a high-ranking member of the legal and lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which currently is set to benefit in stock options if a renewable resource company succeeds in building a water pipeline across federal land. “Whatever my firm’s interests may or may not be, the minute I walk out of that firm, I have no interest in their interest,” he told Senator Maria Cantwell in response to a line of questioning on the subject. He also signed pledges essentially recusing himself from having input in issues relating to former clients for two years. After that period, he said that if there are matters involving a former client, he’ll follow the guidance of the ethics office.
3. His firm has sued the DOI four times.
Bernhardt “personally argued one appeals case challenging endangered species protections for imperiled California salmon," according to the Los Angeles Times.
4. It won’t be his first time working for DOI.
Before he joined the firm, Bernhardt worked for the DOI from 2001 to 2009, spending part of that time as solicitor — the No. 3 post in the department. Supporters say his previous work at the DOI make him a good pick for the job. Cantwell, on the other hand, brought up conflicts of interest issues during Bernhardt’s tenure, like one official who was sentenced to 10 months in prison for obstruction. He listed several of his actions in response to at least one of these ethical violations in the confirmation hearing.
5. He doesn’t want any outside interests influencing tribal recognition.
Senator Martin Heinrich asked Bernhardt about tribal recognition processes, one of the responsibilities of the DOI. Bernhardt said that they should be removed of outside influences. Speaking of his time at the DOI, “I really felt that the Bureau of Recognition should be as insulated from those types of activities as possible, so that they could do the review that they need to do.”