Donald Trump announced on Monday that he planned to nominate David Bernhardt as secretary of the interior to replace Ryan Zinke. Bernhardt is a former oil lobbyist and is currently the acting secretary of the department, which oversees the care and use of public lands in the United States.
“I am pleased to announce that David Bernhardt, Acting Secretary of the Interior, will be nominated as Secretary of the Interior,” Trump tweeted. “David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed.”
Bernhardt has been the acting secretary since Ryan Zinke, who resigned at the end of last year and left office in January amid a scandal around his real estate dealings conducted while he was in office. Zinke is accused of striking a bargain with the chairman of Halliburton that is described as a conflict of interest for someone who is meant to act in the best interest of the environment.
As acting secretary, Bernhardt has continued to pursue the president’s agenda of expanding domestic energy production. Bernhardt worked closely with Zinke in order to push drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to roll back Endangered Species Act regulations, along with opening up more land to oil and gas leasing.
The former oil lobbyist has called the Endangered Species Act an “unnecessary regulatory burden” and last year, he helped make it easier to remove animals from the ESA list.
Bernhardt thanked the president for the nomination in a prepared statement on Monday.
“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,” Bernhardt said.
Bernhardt has many ties to energy companies, including Halliburton, Targa Energy, and Eni Petroleum. In fact, he has been forced to recuse himself because of his web of connections so many times, he carries around a card with a list of his recusals.
David Bernhardt, the man just nominated to be Trump's permanent Interior Secretary and a former energy lobbyist, once had so many potential conflicts of interest as Ryan Zinke's #2 that he had to carry a list of them all. https://t.co/lcaBDdWSz2— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 4, 2019
Because of this, environmental groups immediately decried Bernhardt’s nomination, according to the Hill.
“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,” said Vicky Wyatt, a spokesperson for Greenpeace.
On the other hand, energy insiders cheered Bernhardt’s appointment, including the American Petroleum Institute and the Western Energy Alliance.
Trump’s nomination will now need to go through committee and then be approved by a majority of people in the Senate before he can be confirmed.