Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist to head Department of Interior

U.S. president Donald Trump has nominated David Bernhard as the new Secretary of the Department of Interior (DOI). He has been the Acting Secretary after Ryan Zinke resigned in December 2018. The oil and gas industry has welcomed the nomination, while conservation groups have slammed the move.

David Bernhardt (R) swearing in to his position in the Department of Interior, to the left is former Secretary Ryan Zinke; Source: Greenpeace
David Bernhardt (R) swearing in to his position in the Department of Interior, to the left is former Secretary Ryan Zinke; Source: Greenpeace

Donald Trump said on Twitter on Monday that the Acting Secretary of the Interior would be nominated to be elected as the permanent Secretary of the Interior.

Trump stated: “David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed!”

The announcement by the U.S. president immediately initiated a response from other politicians from the United States and organizations like Greenpeace, Earthjustice, and the National Ocean Industries Association.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Mazie Hirono also went to Twitter and called Bernhard “a walking conflict of interest” and “another scandal-plagued fox guarding the henhouse.”


It is worth reminding that Bernhard became the Acting Secretary in December 2018 following the resignation of then-Secretary Ryan Zinke. Zinke resigned due to, as he stated, “false and fictitious” allegations against him.


Earthjustice: “Reject this industry-sponsored hack”


Following the statement regarding Bernhardt’s nomination, the vice president of policy and legislation at Earthjustice Martin Hayden said: “The Trump administration’s dirty industry favor factory is working harder than ever with the nomination of David Bernhardt.

“As a lobbyist, Bernhardt’s client roster reads like a who’s who of the worst corporate polluters in the United States, from Taylor Energy to Halliburton.

“The Senate should reject this industry-sponsored hack and send him out through the revolving door of Washington for the last time.”


Zinke “a tree-hugging environmentalist in comparison”


The U.S. branch of the environmental organization Greenpeace also reacted negatively to the nomination.

Greenpeace USA climate campaigner Vicky Wyatt stated: “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. And Ryan Zinke was a disaster.

“We already let Bernhardt do enough damage to our federal lands and waters as deputy secretary  –  we have to stop him before he destroys some of this country’s best ideas including the Endangered Species Act.

“Our new leaders in Congress can demonstrate respect for our country’s most unique natural treasures by not only holding both Zinke and Bernhardt accountable for possible ethical violations but by only confirming an Interior Secretary who wishes to strengthen and protect public lands and waters, not destroy them for corporate gain.”

It is worth adding that Greenpeace USA and the Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter in December asking the Interior Department’s Inspector General to investigate David Bernhardt’s possible ethical violations, including recusal violations, and to respond to requests for increased transparency from the agency.

Related:  U.S. Interior Secretary Zinke resigns citing “false and fictitious” allegations

Oil industry reps greet the nomination


In contrast to the previously mentioned reactions, National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) President Randall Luthi said: “NOIA applauds the nomination of David Bernhardt to be the next Secretary of the Department of the Interior.

“His selection as Secretary will assure that important energy and conservation policies will not miss a beat in the transition. Bernhardt understands that conservation and enhancement of natural resources can and does occur in conjunction with the development of natural resources for energy – both on and offshore.

“Currently, almost 20 percent of America’s domestically-produced oil and natural gas comes from the outer continental shelf, and the offshore oil and gas industry is the second highest contributor to federal coffers, next to income taxes. In addition, America’s rapidly growing offshore wind industry will further strengthen our nation’s energy and economic security.

“As Deputy Interior Secretary, Bernhardt has been through the confirmation process once before, and he has taken the necessary steps to be transparent about his former clients and potential conflicts – including NOIA. […] we urge the Department to promptly move forward with a National Offshore Leasing Program that provides increased access to valuable offshore oil and natural gas resources, and to also encourage the continued growth of America’s emerging offshore wind industry by developing a reliable and consistent schedule of future offshore wind lease sales.”

American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Mike Sommers welcomed the nomination: “The Department of the Interior plays a critical role in advancing America’s energy revolution, which has made the U.S. the world’s leading producer of natural gas and oil, while driving emissions to their lowest levels in a generation. API supports the nomination of David Bernhardt and we look forward to working with him should he be confirmed.”

Bernhard himself tweeted: “It’s a humbling privilege to be nominated to lead a Department whose mission I love, to accomplish the balanced, common sense vision of our President.”