Deputy Secretary Nominee No Friend to Wildlife

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Haley McKey, 202-772-0247, hmckey@defenders.org

WASHINGTON (May 18, 2017) – The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing to consider the nomination of David Bernhardt for Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Bernhardt raises serious concerns for the future of wildlife conservation, habitat protections and protecting our natural heritage from harmful industrial uses.

Statement from Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark:

“David Bernhardt’s history, both in the private sector and at the Department of the Interior, disqualifies him for Deputy Secretary of the Interior, a role that must prioritize managing and preserving a healthy natural heritage for future generations. His work as a lobbyist for the oil and gas industry, agribusiness, and other corporate interests represents a serious conflict of interest. It calls into question his ability to balance the needs of our wildlife, public lands and scarce water resources with pressure from big polluters for more access and less regulation.

“During his long tenure at the Department of the Interior he repeatedly sacrificed the trust placed in him by the American public to conserve our wildlife, public lands and other natural resources to help line the pockets of big industry. We urge the Senate to reject this nomination and demand a deputy secretary who can truly be a trustworthy steward of our nation’s most sensitive and imperiled natural resources.”

Background:

  • Mr. Bernhardt has represented mining and extraction companies, developers, and oil and gas interests, including EP Energy, the National Ocean Industries Association, Cobalt International Energy and Rosemont Copper (now Hudbay Minerals).

Conflict of Interest: Cadiz Water Project

  • David Bernhardt’s lobbying firm, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, and Schreck, has a significant financial stake in the Cadiz water project, which seeks to pump water from an aquifer beneath California’s fragile desert and sell it to urban water agencies in southern California.
  • Scientists fear that the project would significantly damage Mojave National Preserve and Mojave Trails National Monument by drying up springs and other waters that are critical for bighorn sheep, bobcats, and other wildlife. 
  • The Cadiz project will require permits from the Department of the Interior. If confirmed as Deputy Secretary, Mr. Bernhardt would be in a position to approve this ill-advised project.

Conflict of Interest: Westlands Water District

  • Bernhardt and his firm have represented Westlands Water District in California — the largest water district in the United States and a key player in big agribusiness. In his work for Westlands, Mr. Bernhardt lobbied Congress to undermine Endangered Species Act protections that are critical for protecting salmon and other native fish in the San Francisco Bay-Delta. 
  • Mr. Bernhardt also helped Westlands negotiate a settlement with the Department of the Interior regarding toxic agricultural drainage that is currently stalled pending action by Congress. Mr. Bernhardt’s confirmation would allow him to help push the deal across the finish line, to the benefit his former client – and the detriment of California’s waters and wildlife.

Endangered Species

  • As former Solicitor of the Department of the Interior, David Bernhardt authored an opinion that stated that the Department could not use the Endangered Species Act to address the threats of climate change to polar bears, even if the species was protected under the Act.
  • Another opinion, which was subsequently thrown out in court, interpreted the definition of “endangered species” in a manner that made listing more difficult, but made it easier to remove protections for endangered species.
  • Mr. Bernhardt’s time at Interior was also associated with a series of investigations conducted by DOI’s Inspector General, including one report that concluded that staff within the department were interfering with the scientific integrity of the Endangered Species Act.

 

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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.