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Opinion Columns

Opinion: Bernhardt’s Oil: Open for business to the highest bidder

President Trump’s recent nomination of Coloradan David Bernhardt to serve as Secretary of the Interior received a round of praises: namely, from the oil and gas industry and other pro-deregulators who stand to benefit from his leadership.

Set to lose if Bernhardt secures the position are our national parks, clean air and treasured public lands — the assets that he would have direct authority over.

To get a good understanding of David Bernhardt and the policy directions he’s likely to take if confirmed, you only have to examine his background.

Matt Kirby

In 2009, Bernhardt became a shareholder and chairman at the Denver-based law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, where he represented the interests of various oil and gas companies from Halliburton, Statoil, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. In this position he lobbied for lax regulation and opportunities to open public lands for development.

His experience in this space makes him a walking conflict of interest, too problematic to even be considered for the Department of the Interior, the agency tasked with protecting this country’s public lands and natural resources.

In fact, Bernhardt has so many ethical conflicts, he infamously carried a double-sided sheet of them during his Senate confirmation hearing to serve as Deputy Secretary.

In that role and now as Acting Interior Secretary, many have seen Bernhardt as the person pushing forward some of the most egregious deregulatory actions and fast-tracking oil and gas leases, especially given his savviness and thorough understanding of the oil and gas industry.

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Since the Trump administration took office, the agency has leased a mindboggling 15 million acres of public land to oil and gas development on public lands alone, including tens of thousands of acres near our national parks.

The impacts of this development can be directly seen in places like Dinosaur National Monument where park visitors frequently encounter hazy skies and poor air quality, placing vulnerable populations, including children, seniors and people with respiratory conditions at risk.

Unfortunately, these policy moves provide a grim glimpse into a future with Bernhardt at the helm. Since taking over as Acting Secretary, David Bernhardt has pushed the pedal of development further toward the floor with an increased emphasis on generating as much revenue from public lands as possible.

This includes deeming Bureau of Land Management staffers essential during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, in order to continue processing lease applications right here in Colorado and other Southwestern states.

While his staffers were going unpaid and the public was unable to voice their concerns, oil and gas companies had backdoor access to further plans to drill our public lands.

To add insult to injury, Bernhardt recently visited some of the areas most impacted by oil and gas development in New Mexico near Chaco Culture National Historical Park to boast historic revenue numbers generated by his agency. In 2018, the Department of the Interior collected $1.1 billion in revenue from oil and gas leasing alone, making it their highest grossing year ever.

Under this administration, the line between the regulated and the regulators has become almost indistinguishable and David Bernhardt is the walking embodiment of that. Much of his career and livelihood has been made representing the very industry that he is now charged with regulating.

The future of our public lands, national parks, and the communities that depend on them looks incredibly bleak with David Bernhardt and his friends from the oil and gas industry in charge.

Two more years of Bernhardt spells disaster for our air, water, wildlife, and people. We don’t have much time on our hands given the damage that has already been done under this administration and the impending effects of climate change.

Now is the time to oppose his nomination and pressure this administration to consider the true value of some of our most precious natural resources.

Matt Kirby is from Denver and is the Director of Energy and Landscape Conservation at National Parks Conservation Association


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