Coloradan David Bern­hardt’s nom­i­na­tion con­firmed by Se­nate

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jesse Paul

Colorado na­tive David Bern­hardt’s nom­i­na­tion by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to the post of deputy In­te­rior sec­re­tary was con­firmed Mon­day by the U.S. Se­nate, de­spite con­cerns from Democrats who call him a Washington in­sider and from con­ser­va­tion­ists wor­ried about his en­vi­ron­men­tal record.

He was ap­proved in a 53 to 43 vote, with Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Cory Gard­ner, a Repub­li­can, and Michael Ben­net, a Demo­crat, in sup­port. Ben­net’s vote split with many in his cau­cus.

Bern­hardt, orig­i­nally from Ri­fle, has held sev­eral po­si­tions at the U.S. Depart­ment of the In­te­rior, in­clud­ing so­lic­i­tor — the agency’s third-rank­ing po­si­tion — and chief le­gal of­fi­cer. He’s was also a top ex­ec­u­tive with the Den­ver-based law and lob­by­ing firm, Brown­stein Hy­att Far­ber Schreck.

His re­cent clients in­clude min­ing in­ter­ests, en­ergy com­pa­nies and wa­ter groups. That port­fo­lio has led some ac­tivists and those on the left to ques­tion whether Bern­hardt can be im­par­tial. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said Bern­hardt’s nom­i­na­tion flies in the face of Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington of in­flu­ence ped­dlers.

“I’m afraid he’s not drain­ing the swamp. He’s ac­tu­ally help­ing to fill it,” Cantwell said.

Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, D-Mass., called Bern­hardt a walk­ing con­flict of in­ter­est.

“By his own ad­mis­sion, he in­tends to be a big-busi­ness, ‘yes’ man for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ex­treme dis­re­gard for our en­vi­ron­ment and the hu­man lives that are af­fected,” War­ren said.

Cantwell and other crit­ics said they were con­cerned over me­dia re­ports that Bern­hardt was work­ing for the West­lands Wa­ter Dis­trict, the na­tion’s largest ir­ri­ga­tion dis­trict, at the same time he was serv­ing on the Trump tran­si­tion team. Bern­hardt’s law firm rep­re­sented West­lands in four law­suits against In­te­rior.

Cam­paign for Ac­count­abil­ity last week filed a com­plaint last week with fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors over the re­ports.

At a con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing in May, Bern­hardt told Cantwell he would re­cuse him­self from mat­ters in­volv­ing West­lands and other clients for at least a year, un­less he re­ceives au­tho­riza­tion to do so.

“If I get a whiff of some­thing com­ing my way that in­volves a client or for­mer client for my firm, I’m go­ing to … run straight to the ethics of­fice,” Bern­hardt said.

Chris Saeger, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the west­ern val­ues project, says Bern­hardt’s nom­i­na­tion shouldn’t have been con­sid­ered in light of the ques­tions about his ties to West­lands. “While many ques­tions re­main one thing is clear, if con­firmed, David Bern­hardt would be noth­ing but a rub­ber stamp for the spe­cial in­ter­ests who have lined his pock­ets,” Saeger said in a writ­ten state­ment just be­fore the vote.

Groups such as the Colorado Wa­ter Congress and the Out­door Recre­ation In­dus­try Roundtable wrote let­ters in sup­port of Bern­hardt’s nom­i­na­tion.

Con­ser­va­tion Colorado said it was dis­ap­pointed in Sen. Ben­net’s vote. Ben­net, in a state­ment, said “we are count­ing on Deputy Sec­re­tary Bern­hardt to up­hold his com­mit­ment to pro­tect Colorado’s for­ward-lean­ing meth­ane rules and en­sure we are not put at a dis­ad­van­tage.”

The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this re­port.

David Bern­hardt has held sev­eral lead­er­ship po­si­tions in the depart­ment.

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