Meet Your New Ryan Zinke, Same As The Old Ryan Zinke!
Donald Trump continued his mid-term record of replacing terrible, grifty incompetents with competent but also terrible people who'll probably be much worse, nominating David Bernhardt to replace Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior. Zinke was a flamboyant egotist with a taste for travel and ridiculous spending, plus an ethics record that has him still under investigation for possible criming while in office. But don't go saying this is just like how Trump replaced the headline-grabbing EPA chief Scott Pruitt with Pruitt's quietly horrifying deputy Andrew Wheeler. This is completely different, although like Wheeler, Bernhardt has served as deputy secretary at his agency, in his case quietly gutting protections for America's public lands. But the two men are nothing alike! Wheeler was a coal industry lobbyist, you see, while Bernhardt lobbied for the oil industry.
Bernhardt has served as Interior's acting secretary since January 2, Zinke's last day. (On his way out the door, Zinke restored the grazing leases for the two Oregon ranchers whose oppression by the mean old feds sparked the 2016 Bundy takeover of the Malheur wildlife refuge. Trump pardoned the ranchers last year.) During the government shutdown, Bernhardt did everything he could to make sure Interior kept the oil and gas industry happy, because approving oil and gas leases is a matter of national security, unlike, say, food inspections. He also made sure national parks stayed open, albeit with shit all over them, and although irreparable damage was done to Joshua Tree National Park without anyone around to stop it, everything was just peachy, because you didn't see anyone on Fox complaining about not being able to go to national parks, QED.
Bernhardt won't be arriving to work on a horse, he won't have his very own flag to show he's in the building, and he probably won't fill his office with a bunch of dead stuffed animals. Instead, he'll focus his energy on making Interior as friendly as it possibly can be for its new owners since January 20, 2017, the extractive industries: Coal, gas, mining, logging -- if there's a buck to be made taking stuff out of the land, he's for it! Bernhardt was Interior's top attorney under George W. Bush, and in his time as number two in Trump's Interior, he's done his best for the industries that will make America barren:
He is working to streamline environmental reviews to expedite energy projects, and has promoted overhauling the Endangered Species Act to provide more certainty to developers [...]
In the last two years Interior has auctioned off more than 16.8 million acres of public land for oil and gas drilling, according to the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, 2.3 million of which was sold. In the first quarter of 2019, nearly 2.3 million more acres are on the chopping block.
Bernhardt has played a key role in shrinking two national monuments in southern Utah, as well as pushing to open up the land now outside their boundaries to be opened up for coal and mineral mining.
Like lots of Republicans, Bernhardt really doesn't like that pesky Endangered Species Act. Last year, he even wrote a Washington Post op-ed praising his own plans to weaken protections for endangered animals. Not that he said that -- instead, he said the administration was bringing the Endangered Species Act "up to date," because protecting unprofitable wildlife is soooo outdated.
Here is a large surprise! As soon as Trump named Bernhardt to head Interior, lobbyists started celebrating the news. The National Ocean Industries Association was over the moon! Oh, you might think from its name that it has something to do with fishing, but nah, it's the lobbying group for the offshore oil industry. In addition to praising Bernhardt's depth of experience, the group applauds his wisdom in recognizing that nature is there to be used:
Bernhardt understands that conservation and enhancement of natural resources can and does occur in conjunction with development of natural resources for energy – both on and offshore.
The group also briefly mentions the development of offshore wind farms, so hooray, that's one thing that's not horrible, although we bet Tucker Carlson would say they should stick to drilling since wind energy is a scam that doesn't work when it's cold.
With his past lobbying for a whole bunch of companies, the Washington Post notes, Bernhardt has to take special steps to make sure he stays on the good side of ethics laws:
[He] walked into the No. 2 job at Interior with so many potential conflicts of interest he has to carry a small card listing them all. He initially had to recuse himself from "particular matters" directly affecting 26 former clients to conform with the Trump administration's ethics pledge.
The Post also cites one "former senior administration official" who said that during the administration's first two years, Zinke made a point of taking credit for all the deregulating and drilling and national monument shrinking, but that was largely a matter of self-promotion:
But Bernhardt "actually ran the agency," the official said. "Zinke wasn't running the agency."
Well of course not! He had airplanes and helicopters to ride on, and important people to see, and Inspector General's investigations to try to derail. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out. But all the while, David Bernhardt was working hard in the background to make sure American industry wouldn't be bothered by silly concerns about critters and ecosystems and people who aren't making a profit.
For some reason, a lot of environmental groups aren't too keen on Bernhardt, probably because they're jealous:
"The ethical questions surrounding David Bernhardt and his commitment to pandering to oil, coal and gas executives make former interior secretary Ryan Zinke look like a tree-hugging environmentalist in comparison," said Vicky Wyatt of Greenpeace USA. "And Ryan Zinke was a disaster" [...]
"As a former lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry, Bernhardt would be even more adept than his predecessor at advancing Trump's drill-anywhere agenda that prioritizes pollution over people," said Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society.
The Western Values Project even unveiled a brand new website to focus on Bernhardt's many, many conflicts in preparation for his confirmation, complete with detailed sections on his conflicts of interest.
Unfortunately, he's likely to be confirmed anyway because, in case you've forgotten, Senate Republicans are terrible. At least with the new Democratic majority in the House, there will be hearings: Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona), chair of the Natural Resources Committee, plans to call Bernhardt before the committee to get him on the record on Interior's pro-industry priorities. Bernhardt will definitely try to make it, assuming he can take time from deciding what natural treasures should be filled with oil wells and uranium mines next.
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