In­te­rior Dept. nom­i­nee worked in lob­by­ing firm

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY DAR­RYL FEARS dar­ryl.fears@wash­post.com

David Bern­hardt, Pres­i­dent Trump’s nom­i­nee to be deputy in­te­rior sec­re­tary, has been de­scribed as “an ex­cel­lent choice” by sup­port­ers and “a walk­ing con­flict of in­ter­est” by op­po­nents. The full Se­nate is set to vote on his nom­i­na­tion Mon­day.

Bern­hardt served in In­te­rior un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush as so­lic­i­tor, the third-rank­ing po­si­tion at the de­part­ment, and as a le­gal of­fi­cer. But more re­cently, he worked for a lob­by­ing firm rep­re­sent­ing en­ergy in­ter­ests and a water district.

That role has led to con­tro­versy. The non­profit group Cam­paign for Ac­count­abil­ity claims that Bern­hardt con­tin­ued to lobby for the West­lands Water District in Cal­i­for­nia af­ter with­draw­ing his reg­is­tra­tion as a lob­by­ist in Novem­ber. In a let­ter to the Jus­tice De­part­ment ask­ing it to in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter, the group claims that Bern­hardt edited a draft ex­ec­u­tive or­der for then-Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump in­volv­ing water is­sues that stood to ben­e­fit West­lands Water.

The Cam­paign for Ac­count­abil­ity said Bern­hardt con­tin­ued to work with West­lands Water into Jan­uary. The al­le­ga­tion does not claim that Bern­hardt was paid for any work con­ducted af­ter de­ac­ti­vat­ing his reg­is­tra­tion, but Daniel Stevens, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, said: “I don’t think that mat­ters. He’s still ad­vanc­ing the agenda of the group.” Stevens said the cam­paign has not re­ceived a re­sponse from the Jus­tice De­part­ment and does not ex­pect one. “We’d prob­a­bly be the last peo­ple to know,” he said. “They would just con­duct an in­ves­ti­ga­tion with­out telling us.”

Bern­hardt’s nom­i­na­tion was sent to the Se­nate floor by the En­ergy Com­mit­tee on a mostly party-line vote of 14 to 9. Repub­li­cans praised the nom­i­nee.

“He’s some­body who is go­ing to stand up for the en­vi­ron­ment to pro­tect our great out­doors,” Sen. Cory Gard­ner (R-Colo.) said in a video state­ment posted to Twit­ter in June, “some­body I know who will be a cham­pion for Colorado val­ues when it comes to pro­tect­ing our en­vi­ron­ment for the next gen­er­a­tion.”

Bern­hardt is a Colorado na­tive from the town of Ri­fle, “the self­pro­claimed ‘Oil Shale Capital of the World,’ ” he wrote in his submitted com­mit­tee tes­ti­mony. He wrote that Ri­fle “suf­fered a dra­matic eco­nomic down­turn dur­ing the mid-1980s en­ergy bust” that harmed him and his fam­ily but said that he re­mains com­mit­ted to en­ergy de­vel­op­ment.

It is that pur­suit that wor­ried Sen. Bill Nel­son (D-Fla.), who cited his con­cern about Florida’s shore­line. Nel­son said he was con­cerned that Bern­hardt would sup­port In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke’s at­tempt to grant oil drilling leases off the coast of Florida.

“When it comes to the east­ern gulf, there is no good way to in­crease off­shore pro­duc­tion while bal­anc­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns,” Nel­son told the Braden­ton Herald. “And sec­ondly, as I have ex­plained time and time again, it makes no sense to drill in an area that is crit­i­cally im­por­tant to the United States mil­i­tary.”

Since Bern­hardt’s con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing be­fore the com­mit­tee in May, Zinke has pushed to al­low drilling in the Arc­tic, At­lantic and Gulf of Mex­ico. Zinke called Bern­hardt’s nom­i­na­tion “an ex­cel­lent choice.”

In his tes­ti­mony, Bern­hardt said he ad­mired the sec­re­tary’s lead­er­ship: “In a short pe­riod of time, Sec­re­tary Zinke has de­ci­sively ini­ti­ated ef­forts to ad­vance con­ser­va­tion stew­ard­ship, im­prove game and habi­tat man­age­ment, and in­crease out­door re­cre­ation.

“I look for­ward to the op­por­tu­nity to serve with him.” More at wash­ing­ton­post.com/ news/en­ergy-en­vi­ron­ment

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