Monday, May 15, 2017

Senators to hear from controversial deputy Interior pick

David Bernhardt is scheduled to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. Trump nominated Bernhardt to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department late last month. Bernhardt brings years of Interior experience to his confirmation process. He held several positions at Interior during the George W. Bush administration, including a stint as solicitor -- the agency's No. 3 spot -- from 2006 to 2009. The Senate confirmed Bernhardt unanimously to that position in 2006, a fact Republicans are certain to raise during his confirmation fight this time around. But Bernhardt is still a controversial figure among some environmentalists. He was a transition official for Trump and the chairman of the natural resources law practice at Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck. Environmentalists worry he will support expanded fossil fuel development on public lands, arguing his private sector experience raises conflict of interest concerns. His financial disclosure forms show more than $1.1 million in income from his law firm last year, and at least $80,000 in compensation from more than a dozen energy firms, though Bernhardt said he would recuse himself, for at least one year, from decisions involving former clients. The Western Values Project in April sued the Interior Department seeking information about Bernhardt's tenure during the Bush administration. After he was nominated, Defenders of Wildlife hit him for his "strong ties to the oil, gas and big agricultural industries," and Energy Committee ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) raised concerns as well. "I am gravely concerned about Mr. Bernhardt's record of working on behalf of corporations at the expense of the environment, and his history at the Department of the Interior during years plagued by ethical scandals," she said. Bernhardt is likely to find strong support among Republicans, however. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke -- Bernhardt's would-be boss at the department -- has praised his "extensive experience" and "legal career" as "exactly what is needed to help streamline government and make the Interior and our public lands work for the American economy."..more

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