Published: Tue, February 05, 2019
Science | By

Trump nominates acting Interior secretary for permanent job

Trump nominates acting Interior secretary for permanent job

President Donald Trump says he's nominating a Colorado native and Washington veteran with lobbying ties to US energy companies to lead the Interior Department.

Bernhardt is now the acting secretary at the Interior Department, the agency overseeing USA public lands.

In formally sending Bernhardt's nomination to the Senate, Trump wrote on Twitter that Bernhardt was doing "a fantastic job" as acting secretary and deserved confirmation.

As acting secretary, Bernhardt drew criticism in recent weeks from environmental groups, tribes and others for continuing to process paperwork for oil and gas projects while other agencies were closed for routine work during this winter's partial government shutdown.

The Interior Department called its effort important to bolstering USA energy independence.

Republicans say Bernhardt's revolving-door experience makes him an informed regulator in matters before the agency.

The Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, chairman of the House natural resources committee, said lawmakers would be watching to see whether Bernhardt's former industry ties were influencing his policy decisions.

Bernhardt has been serving as acting Interior secretary since Zinke officially resignedfrom his post last month. Rather than asking the Senate confirm controversial Acting Attorney General Matthew Whittaker for the job, Trump nominated William Barr, who won high marks as George H.W. Bush's attorney general from 1990-93.

Despite their letter calling him a "walking conflict of interest", the Senate confirmed Bernhardt on a 53-43 vote, and with strong support from Sen.

Critics say Bernhardt's previous work as a lobbyist could risk conflicts of interest, unless he recuses himself from certain issues, because he worked for companies that could benefit by opening up lands to development.

As the New York Times reports, while Zinke was "the public face of some of the largest rollbacks of public-land protections in the nation's history, Mr. Bernhardt was the one quietly pulling the levers to carry them out, opening millions of acres of public land and water to oil, gas, and coal companies".

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