The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Colorado native David Bernhardt as secretary of the Interior Department.
Colorado’s Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner was a “yes” vote while Michael Bennet, his Democratic counterpart, was a “no.”
Bernhardt’s nomination cleared the chamber by a 56-41 vote.
Bernhardt, from Rifle, worked as an oil and gas lobbyist before he was initially tapped to be the Interior’s No. 2 official.
When former Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned last year, Bernhardt was chosen to be the agency’s interim leader. In February, President Donald Trump picked him as Zinke’s permanent replacement.
Democrats and environmental groups have lambasted Bernhardt as being too close to drilling interests. Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said Thursday that letting Bernhardt lead the Interior is like “letting the fox guard the henhouse.”
Bennet previously supported Bernhardt’s nomination as deputy secretary of the Interior in July 2017, but switched his vote this time around citing Bernhardt’s support of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He said the earlier decision “is a vote I regret.”
“The Zinke ethics hurricane was bad enough. America should not be harmed again by a Bernhardt ethical typhoon,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.
Citing figures from the Office of Government Ethics, Wyden said at least 27 former clients representing the oil and gas industry, coal, water districts and agriculture pose “unlimited numbers of conflicts of interest” for Bernhardt.
Republicans say Bernhardt is well-prepared for the job. “David knows how important public lands are to our state and has a keen understanding of the issues Coloradans face every day,” Gardner said in an earlier statement.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who leads the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Bernhardt has the experience and expertise needed to lead the department.
“He is from the West, he has great familiarity with the issues that will come before him and he has proven that he can ably lead the department,” she said.
Among Bernhardt’s previous jobs was lobbying for the high-powered, Denver-based firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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