The Senate has voted to substantiate David Bernhardt, a former a former oil and fuel and water lobbyist, as secretary of the embattled inside division.
Senators voted 56-41 to approve Bernhardt’s nomination to supervise greater than 500m acres of public lands and different assets, together with nationwide parks, monuments and wildlife refuges.
Bernhardt, who was confirmed as deputy secretary in July 2017, has been appearing secretary since Ryan Zinke – who was plagued by scandal – stepped down in December. Democrats have complained that the previous oil and fuel lobbyist has used his federal place to learn former trade shoppers.
Earlier than becoming a member of the administration, Bernhardt labored at a Washington legislation and lobbying agency on behalf of mining firms, oil and fuel giants, a politically highly effective western water company and different teams which have enterprise earlier than the inside division.
“David Bernhardt is a strolling battle of curiosity who’s promoting out our public lands to his former shoppers within the fossil gasoline trade,” mentioned Michael Brune, govt director of the Sierra Membership.
“Like Ryan Zinke earlier than him, Bernhardt is clearly extra all in favour of doing favors for his company polluting associates than in responsibly managing our shared public areas. We won’t again down in our efforts to carry Bernhardt accountable for his abuse of moral norms and his harmful, pro-polluter agenda.”
Oregon senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, mentioned: “The Zinke ethics hurricane was dangerous sufficient. America shouldn’t be harmed once more by a Bernhardt moral storm.”
Citing figures from the Workplace of Authorities Ethics, Wyden mentioned at the very least 27 former shoppers representing the oil and fuel trade, coal, water districts and agriculture pose “limitless numbers of conflicts of curiosity” for Bernhardt. “The inside secretary is meant to be operating [the department] for the good thing about the general public, not for particular pursuits,” Wyden mentioned.
Wyden and different Democrats mentioned Bernhardt has taken actions to weaken the Endangered Species Act, together with erosion of protections for a California fish species lengthy focused by a former shopper, the Westlands Water District, one of many largest and most politically highly effective water utilities within the nation.
Critics additionally say Bernhardt has acted to ease rules holding oil firms accountable for spills and elevated drilling and mining entry on thousands and thousands of acres of public land utilized by the sage grouse, a threatened chook species.
Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican who leads the vitality and pure assets committee, mentioned Bernhardt, 49, has the expertise and experience wanted to steer the division. The Colorado native labored on the inside division for eight years underneath former president George W Bush, together with because the division’s prime lawyer.
“He’s from the west, he has nice familiarity with the problems that may come earlier than him and he has confirmed that he can ably lead the division,” Murkowski mentioned. She mentioned Bernhardt “has confirmed to be a robust accomplice not just for Alaska, however states all throughout the nation”.
She linked ethics allegations towards Bernhardt to unspecified, “fairly well-funded teams which can be working very exhausting and really energetically towards his nomination”.
Three Democrats, Senators Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, voted for Bernhardt, as did impartial senator Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats.
Democrats and environmental teams additionally criticized Bernhardt for failing to face as much as Trump on his proposal to drastically develop offshore drilling alongside the east and west coasts, together with off the coast of Florida, the place a moratorium on offshore drilling expires in 2022.
Florida Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott voted in favor of Bernhardt after receiving assurances from him and different administration officers that the state can be excluded from drilling proposals.
Rubio mentioned in an announcement that the division can’t legally take Florida off the desk till public feedback are obtained. However, he mentioned, “I’m assured that when all is alleged and completed the ban on oil drilling off of Florida’s coasts will stay in place”.
The Senate minority chief, Chuck Schumer of New York, mentioned Bernhardt‘s refusal to rule out offshore drilling in Florida “must be a wake-up name to my colleagues all up and down the coasts Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf” that offshore drilling is a risk regardless of bipartisan opposition.
“It’s exhausting to think about somebody whose background is so at odds with the division’s mission as Mr Bernhardt,” Schumer mentioned. “President Trump, for all his discuss of draining the swamp, desires so as to add one more Washington swamp creature lobbyist to his cupboard.”