Legislative Letters

Re: Oppose David Bernhardt for Deputy Secretary of the Interior

Jun 5, 2017

Ariana Valderrama, Ariana_valderrama@lcv.org, 202-454-4554

June 5, 2017
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Re: Oppose David Bernhardt for Deputy Secretary of the Interior

Dear Senator:
On behalf of our millions of members, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) works to turn environmental values into national, state, and local priorities. Each year, LCV publishes the National Environmental Scorecard, which details the voting records of members of Congress on environmental legislation. The Scorecard is distributed to LCV members, concerned voters nationwide, and the media.

LCV urges you to oppose the nomination of David Bernhardt for Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI). This position is critical to protecting our natural resources for future generations, but Bernhardt’s confirmation would put our public lands, national monuments and parks, clean air and water, and wildlife at risk. With his long history of lobbying for the very industries under DOI’s purview—creating numerous conflicts of interest—and his proximity to ethics scandals during his previous tenure at DOI, Bernhardt’s ability to put the public interest first is questionable, if not impossible.

Bernhardt’s list of conflicts of interest is extensive and should disqualify him from this position. Bernhardt has lobbied for many of the industries, including oil and gas, mining, developers, and more, that are impacted by decisions made at DOI. For example, his lobbying firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, has a large financial stake in Cadiz, Inc., which is pushing for approval from DOI to pump water from an aquifer underneath the Mojave Desert in California. This project could cause severe ecological harm to the Mojave National Preserve, but Bernhardt would be in a position to approve the necessary permits and make millions for his former firm. Additionally, since 2011, Westlands Water District in California, the largest water district in the U.S. and a key player in agribusiness, has paid Bernhardt and his firm $1.27 million. Last year, Bernhardt was a leading lobbyist pushing Congress to pass provisions that benefitted Westlands by undermining Endangered Species Act protections that safeguard salmon and other native fish in the San Francisco Bay-Delta.

Bernhardt’s history of fighting for industry and against federal protections for our natural resources is exactly counter to the person we need in this position. For instance, Bernhardt lobbied on behalf of Cobalt International Energy, a company under federal investigation, in favor of multiple bills that would have expanded offshore oil and gas drilling in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest environmental disaster in our nation’s history. He also represented National Ocean Industries Association in a lawsuit to defend the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s issuance of new offshore oil and gas leases right after and near the Deepwater Horizon spill. In addition, Bernhardt, after serving as the point person on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for the Bush administration, turned around and sued the federal government on behalf of the state of Alaska to allow the state to explore for oil in the Refuge. Needless to say, this long list of ties to industry is incredibly troublesome.

During his previous tenure at DOI, Bernhardt demonstrated a lack of ethical integrity and a willingness to prioritize the profits of industry above ensuring the protection of the resources placed in his charge. Under his watch, scientific reports by the agency were altered to fit a desired policy outcome, including manipulating government findings under the Endangered Species Act. He was the main author on an opinion stating that DOI could not use the Endangered Species Act to protect polar bears from the threat of climate change, and in his recent testimony in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Bernhardt made it clear that he still does not recognize the threat that climate change poses to our lands, wildlife, and very way of life. Additionally, Bernhardt’s tenure as the top lawyer in charge of ethics and legal compliance under President George W. Bush was plagued by scandal, misconduct, and lax enforcement at the former Minerals Management Service that preceded the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Bernhardt’s conflicts of interest, ties to regulated industry, questionable ethics, and refusal to commit to tackling the immense challenge of climate change disqualify him from the position of Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior. We urge you to oppose his nomination and will strongly consider including this vote in the 2017 Scorecard. If you need more information, please call my office at (202) 785-8683 and ask to speak with a member of our Government Relations team.

Gene Karpinski