Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Interior’s No. 2 man sees Washington from a Colorado point of view

Growing up in Rifle on the Western Slope, David Bernhardt saw Colorado’s great outdoors from both sides of the economic equation. This upbringing would shape his way of thinking as the second-in-command for the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Rifle of his boyhood in the early 1980s – from the rugged Flat Tops Wilderness Area, lush with wildflowers, alpine tundra and volcanic cliffs, to the rolling Colorado River Valley – was a picture of natural beauty marred by harsh economic realities. He talks about “Black Sunday,” as the locals called it – May 2, 1982, when Exxon pulled the plug on the Colony Oil Shale Project, putting 2,000 locals out of work. Rifle, at the time, was about 3,200 people. The town’s two banks closed, people left to find work again, and windows were boarded up in entire neighborhoods, Bernhardt recalled. “The economy, the world, was just depressing,” Bernhardt said at a table outside 2914 Coffee, a shop in Denver’s Jefferson Park neighborhood. His father was a county extension agent and his mother was in the real estate business. At 16 years old in 1985, Bernhardt had had enough of hard times; he took the GED and shoved off for the University of Northern Colorado. From small-town boy to high-powered Washington politico, Bernhardt has traveled a long distance. The boom-and-bust struggles of rural communities that produce the nation’s fossil fuels have not. As the deputy to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, he is the logistical brain who gets things done for the take-no-prisoners persona of his boss, a former Navy SEAL. Bernhardt is Robin to the secretary’s Batman, if you will. He met Zinke when he volunteered to help with the Trump transition team, then helped prepare Zinke for the confirmation hearings. “I’m his understudy,” Bernhardt said. “I do whatever he doesn’t want to do. Every secretary wants one of those, the guy who does the other stuff.”..MORE

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