Sec. Zinke's Resignation: Veterans who are elected officials concerned Bernhardt is even more corrupt

By Ramona du Houx

Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has resigned which means Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt will take over as Acting Secretary of the Interior, a position in which he will be legally allowed to serve for 210 days without action by the President.

“While the resignation of Interior Secretary Zinke is important, as he has damaged our public lands and there are 18 investigations currently underway about his unethical actions, the likelihood of Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt filling his shoes, is very concerning,” said Alex Cornell du Houx, President of the Elected Officials to Protect America’s Lands, Marine veteran and former state representative. “As veterans who are lawmakers, one of the freedoms we fight for is to protect access to public lands for all. Whoever replaces Sec. Zinke should uphold the mission and traditions of the Department of the Interior to protect our public Lands for future generations.”

But Bernhardt is too conflicted to even be Acting Interior Secretary.

 Bernhardt is an ex-lobbyist for extractive resource industries and other special interests with deep ties to corporate polluters. He’s already had to recuse himself 26 times regarding deals involving old clients in order to adhere to the Trump administration’s ethics requirements.

But he regularly breaks that promise, as he’s become the man who is executing Trump’s vision to fuel the nation’s dirty energy production. 

In a year and a half, he has made it easier for federal authorities to approve drilling projects on land and offshore, has helped narrow habitat protections for endangered species, and is pushing California to divert more of its water from conservation to agricultural interests.

Zinke tasked him with drafting a new plan for managing federal and state water supplies in California. Bernhardt has made it clear he hopes to overhaul existing agreements to provide more water to agricultural interests.

Bernhardt also has a longstanding relationship and a financial interest with Cadiz, Inc. – the company with plans to pump groundwater from beneath the Mojave Desert public lands. While Bernhardt was serving on Trump’s Interior Department transition team, the proposed Cadiz groundwater project made Trump’s “priority infrastructure project” list. 

Already, 17 million acres of federal lands have been opened for oil and gas leases. When developed those new wells will boost greenhouse gas emissions, while lining the pockets of company executives, some his former clients.

Queried on his views on climate change Bernhardt said he had virtually no legal obligation to act.

“Protecting America’s lands is our first line of defense against climate change,” said Cornell du Houx. “Bernhardt’s past actions dictate he should not get the job, because his recusals have become laughable empty promises. No one is above the law.”

MORE ABOUT ELECTED OFFICIALS TO PROTECT AMERICA'S LANDS

Last summer, 80 of EOPA members, who are veterans as well as lawmakers, signed and sent a letter to Interior Secretary Zinke in support of the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).  They visited Congressional offices, calling on seven senators. A week after their meetings on Capitol Hill the bill that had been languishing in committee was approved permanently funding the LWCF. But now it’s stalled, and hasn’t been brought to the floor for a vote.