Defenders of Wildlife to U.S. Senate: Oppose Deputy Secretary of the Interior Nomination

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media contact: Jennifer Witherspoon: (202) 772-0260, jwitherspoon@defenders.org

WASHINGTON (April 28, 2017) – Today, President Donald J. Trump announced his intent to nominate David Bernhardt of Virginia to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior. The Deputy Secretary of the Interior is the second-ranking official in the Department of the Interior, and assists the Secretary of the Interior in the supervision and direction of the Department. The position is appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The following is a statement Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife: 

“Today, President Trump made it clear that Big Oil, Big Ag, and Water Profiteers are in charge of America’s wildlife and public lands. David Bernhardt is a former lobbyist with strong ties to the oil, gas and big agricultural industries as well as the highly controversial water speculator Cadiz, Inc. The Deputy Secretary of the Interior is charged with protecting America’s public lands and wildlife and with upholding public trust responsibilities. Yet Bernhardt would oversee many high-profile decisions that could make millions for his former lobbying clients, creating a clear conflict of interest.

“President Trump is putting one of the biggest lobbyists in the DC swamp right into the heart of the Department of the Interior. Instead of draining the swamp, the only thing that he and David Bernhardt would be draining is the Mojave National Preserve of water and likely the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of oil.

“David Bernhardt was one of the Bush administration's point people in the push to promote oil drilling from the Arctic to Wyoming. Later, as Interior Solicitor, he concluded that the Department of the Interior could not use the Endangered Species Act to protect polar bears from climate change. Now, after years lobbying the Department of the Interior on behalf of big industry, he wants to go through the proverbial revolving door to run the same department. As the number two at Interior, for example, he would oversee a controversial settlement that includes a $350 million handout to Westlands Water District – the largest water district in the United States and a former client of Bernhardt’s. This is only one of many conflicts of interest he would face.

“The U.S. Senate should thoroughly vet David Bernhardt with an eye to his special interest conflicts and what he stands to gain personally by being the number two at the helm of the Department of the Interior. That inquiry should convince the Senate to reject this special interest appointment.  Corporate interests should not be placed above the public interest.”

 

Background:

Bernhardt runs the Natural Resources Department at a high-powered lobbying and law firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farer Shreck. His co-chair, Scott Slater, is also the CEO of Cadiz, Inc., a company planning to tap an aquifer the size of Rhode Island beneath the Mojave Desert to pipe water to Southern California. His lobbying firm owns 200,000 shares of Cadiz stock, which has more than doubled in price since President Trump won the election, according to the Center for Western Priorities. The Department of the Interior will play a critical role in Cadiz’s efforts to obtain permits for its destructive groundwater-pumping project.

David Bernhardt was a registered lobbyist before deregistering in November to work on President Trump’s transition. His clients last year included Westlands Water District, Rosemont Copper Company and Active Network LLC, according to disclosure filings.

Bernhardt helped to lead Trump’s transition team at Interior. As part of the firm he also lobbied for Westlands Water District, California’s powerful Central Valley water district, for legislative changes to how Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation implements species protections in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta. The firm made $260,000 on the work last year, according to lobbying disclosure forms. Bernhardt worked as solicitor, Interior’s third-highest position, from 2001 to 2009 under Bush. He is also a former U.S. Commissioner to the International Boundary Commission, U.S. and Canada (as reported by Politico).

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Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With nearly 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.