Anchorage Press: Murkowski teams up with AFN to support David Bernhardt for new Secretary of the Interior

It’s going to be rough sledding for U.S. Secretary of the Interior nominee David Bernhardt when it gets down to the votes he’ll need to be confirmed. Bernhardt has been acting secretary at Interior since the departure of Ryan Zinke, who served from 2017 until his resignation in 2019.

Zinke resigned to avoid what he called unwarranted attacks on himself and his family after numerous investigations began and after a host of allegations of ethics violations surfaced.

Bernhardt is not new to being accused of making more than a few questionable decisions himself. He’s mired in a number of investigations mostly because he is still doing business at Interior with a couple of dozen former clients he worked for as a gas and oil lobbyist in Washington D.C.

At a testy confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Resources Committee on Thursday, March 28, Bernhardt was grilled on ethics. It turns out some people just don’t like it when a cabinet member shows signs of unfair policy-making when dealing with the treasures of the country like oil and gas.

The Bernhardt nomination has largely been overshadowed in national news coverage by the release of the Robert Mueller Russia investigation.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump was in Michigan at the same time to rally supporters for the 2020 presidential campaign. There he loudly proclaimed he would need the extra four years to “drain the swamp” in the nation’s capitol. An audience member seated behind Bernhardt quickly donned a “swamp thing” mask and continued to listen.

In her opening statement, committee chairman Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), praised Bernhardt by expressing her strong support for Bernhardt’s nomination, saying she recognized his extensive experience with public lands and natural resource issues.

Murkowski added that Bernhardt also has the support of the Alaska Federation of Natives, Alaska’s largest and most powerful Native organization.

In a press release, Murkowski added that, “Mr. Bernhardt has seen how federal policies impact people’s access to and use of public land, and he recognizes the need to balance conservation with opportunities for economic development. Alaska has more federal land than any other state, and the Department of the Interior controls most of those acres. We often refer to the Department as our ‘landlord’– not necessarily something we enjoy, but it has been part of our reality there. People in Alaska clearly recognize that the decisions made by the Interior have direct impact on them, their families, and their livelihoods.”

Murkowski highlighted the significant progress Interior has made in this administration, along with its improved relations.

“When I meet with Alaskans, the prevailing sentiment is that Interior is doing a good job, and that’s a sea change from where we were just a few years ago,” Murkowski said. “I think we’ve gone from that landlord-tenant, ‘can I hang a picture over here’ type of a relationship to one that is based more on a partnership, and I appreciate that a great deal – whether it’s the NPR-A, whether it’s the 1002, whether it’s gaining access for a small community in remote Alaska – we’ve had a better experience in recent years.” Murkowski also noted there is still important work ahead.

“We need to fully tap into our resource potential and strengthen our mineral security. We need to address the multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog at our land management agencies, particularly the National Park Service. We need forest management reforms to address the growing threat of wildfire. We need to lift decades-old Public Land Orders. We need to do more to address climate change. And we have to account for the territories, which also have a variety of different needs,” Murkowski said. “That’s only a partial list, which is why I intend to move Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination as expeditiously as possible. He is ready for this job and has demonstrated he can handle everything it entails.”

There are more than a few dissenters, however. Leading House Democrats including Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) said in a prepared statement that Bernhardt must release immediately suppressed pesticide reports that impact threatened and endangered species. Grijalva is the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. In a press release, Grijalva, House Small Business Committee chair Nydia Velazquez of New York, and Rep. Jared Huffman of California all said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service analysis found that pesticides called malathion and chlorpyrifos “jeopardize the continued existence” of endangered birds, fish and other animals and plants, which – if publicized – could lead to tighter restrictions on the chemicals.

Bernhardt prevented FWS from releasing the findings, which the agency planned to do in November 2017, the statement said.

In Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee released the following statement regarding David Bernhardt's confirmation hearing to become the next Secretary of Interior. Inslee is also a presidential candidate for 2020.

"Let's not put big oil in charge of the Interior Department. Today's Senate confirmation hearing shows that oil lobbyist David Bernhardt is dangerous to America's public lands and waters and can't be trusted to be our Interior Secretary. Big oil is literally laughing about the access they have to this administration. His answers today demonstrated his deep conflict of interest and his unwillingness to come clean about his record of mothballing an analysis of dangerous toxic chemicals. The Senate should reject this deeply flawed nomination and prevent this ethics nightmare."

By:  John Tetpon
Source: Anchorage Press