In a tweet on Monday, President Trump announced that Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt would be his nominee to permanently replace former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
Zinke resigned at the end of 2018 amid multiple federal investigations into his travel, political activity, and potential conflicts of interest. Bernhardt, who had been Zinke’s number two at the agency, stepped into his role in a temporary capacity, though there were fears that Trump might leave him in post indefinitely without asking for congressional confirmation.
This isn’t Bernhardt’s first stint at the Department of the Interior as he previously served in the department under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009. Bernhardt has also served as a lobbyist for water and oil interests, sometimes bringing lawsuits against the Department of the Interior, whose role it is to “manage and sustain” America’s lands.
This — and his long-held belief that the Endangered Species Act should be reformed — has led critics to question whether he’s an appropriate person for the job. Not least, because Bernhardt’s expected to continue the Trump administration’s campaign to open up public lands to oil and gas drilling and mining.
When Bernhardt was awaiting confirmation for the role of Deputy Secretary of the Interior in 2017, a group of 150 environmental groups wrote a letter to the Senate calling him a “walking conflict of interest”. He has since recused himself from some areas where he has a direct conflict of interest, but those recusals are expiring and there’s no guarantee he’ll make them again.
Still, Bernhardt told The Washington Post in November 2018, “My philosophy, my views are really irrelevant. The views that matter are the views of the president of the United States. And, you know, obviously, by joining his administration, I’ve embraced his vision for rural America. I’m committed to keeping the promises he’s made.”