Bernhardt confirmation praised, criticized

U.S. Senators have confirmed former oil and agribusiness industries lobbyist David Bernhardt to be Secretary of the Interior, filling the vacancy left when Ryan Zinke resigned in January under a cloud of alleged ethical misconduct involving the oilfield services firm Halliburton.

The 56-41 vote was mostly along party lines, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, among Bernhardt’s supporters.

Murkowski called Bernhardt “a strong partner not only for Alaska, but states all across the country. I’m pleased to continue working with him and his team on a wide range of energy, lands and water-related issues,” she said.

Murkowski chairs both the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the Appropriations Interior-Environment Subcommittee, which have jurisdiction over the Interior Department.

Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, called Bernhardt “a walking conflict of interest with a long pattern of putting fossil fuel interests first and the sound stewardship of our natural resources a distant second.”

Kolton said that it was Bernhardt’s decision to keep Arctic oil and gas lease sales and permitting moving forward during the government shutdown even as national parks were shuddered, and vital daily services were being ignored.

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“Now that he has been confirmed, we can only hope that Mr. Bernhardt will understand the job of Interior Secretary means being the nation’s chief steward of our national treasures and not simply an extension of fossil fuel industries,” he said.

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