David Bernhardt Named Deputy Secretary of the Interior: What It Means

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David Bernhardt, the newly approved Deputy Secretary of the Interior hails from Rifle, Colorado. This area is just southeast of the Roan Plateau (pictured), a BLM-managed area that has been a battleground for gas and oil interests and indicative of the legal fight over public lands being waged in the west. Getty Images

On Monday, the senate approved David Bernhardt by a vote of 53-43 for the number-two position in the Department of the Interior. As deputy secretary of the interior, the Coloradan hailing from Rifle will look over the DOI and take the helm in Secretary Ryan Zinke’s absence. 

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Despite working for the department before, he’s proven to be a controversial pick. Bernhardt lobbied for the energy industry after he left the DOI, working as a top-ranking member of the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck (which has sued the DOI four times). Most recently, the environmentalist non-profit watchdog group Campaign for Accountability accused him of continuing to lobby through January after he withdrew his lobbyist registration months earlier.

“Bernhardt’s refusal to recognize climate change and his past work for clients who disregard the impacts of fish and other wildlife make him profoundly unqualified for such a position as Deputy Secretary of the Interior,” said Grant Putnam, president of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association in a statement.

Bernhardt has promised to recuse himself from making decisions relating to his former clients for what roughly amounts to two years. During his confirmation hearing with a senate committee, he said he would not take interests of his former employer into account while deputy secretary of the interior and follow the guidance of the ethics office.

He worked for the DOI for eight years under the George W. Bush administration, serving as solicitor, the third-highest ranking position in the department, for part of that time. Supporters argue this makes him qualified for the job — Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski, for one, thanked Bernhardt for wanting to return to public service and said she knows Zinke is anxious to put him to work.

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