Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) released the following statement on the nomination of David Bernhardt to be Secretary of the Interior:
“I rise today in opposition to the nomination of David Bernhardt to be Secretary of the Interior.
I opposed his nomination as Deputy Secretary of the Interior because of his numerous conflicts of interest as a former lobbyist. Bernhardt’s tenure, both as deputy secretary and now the acting secretary, at Interior has since confirmed my initial concerns and given rise to new ones.
Conflicts of Interest
As a former partner at a powerful D.C. lobbying and law firm, Bernhardt represented numerous oil, gas, mining and water companies with ongoing business before the department that he now oversees.
The Washington Post recently reported that he has at least 22 known conflicts of interest – the most of any of President Trump’s nominees.
This is particularly concerning given that Bernhardt’s recusals mandated by President Trump will expire in August and he’s refused to commit to continuing recusing himself beyond then on any issues that could benefit former clients.
In fact, during his recent confirmation hearing, Bernhardt stated that recusal isn’t ‘really is the best strategy’ – an unacceptable stance.
By refusing to recuse himself, Bernhardt has shown a potential willingness put his former clients’ needs before the public good.
One troubling example is his relationship with Cadiz, a company that wants to profit by draining a critical aquifer in the Mojave Desert.
Before coming to the Department of the Interior, Bernhardt was a partner at, and led the natural resources division of, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck – Cadiz’s lobbying firm that retains a financial stake in the project.
This project would destroy the treasured California desert that I’ve fought my entire Senate career to protect.
In order to sell the water, Cadiz needs to build a more than 40-mile pipeline through the desert to connect to an aqueduct.
Several months after Bernhardt was nominated as deputy secretary, the Interior Department temporarily suspended its own solicitor’s opinion requiring Cadiz to get federal permits to build its pipeline along a railroad right-of-way.
That solicitor’s opinion was ultimately reversed two months after he was confirmed, completely removing the federal permitting authority for this project.
The timing of this decision is extremely troubling, particularly in light of Interior Department’s own independent science that has repeatedly questioned the sustainability of this project.
The U.S. Geological Survey, which is part of the Interior Department, stated in 2002 and confirmed in 2017 that the natural recharge rate of the aquifer is only 2,000 to 10,000 acre-feet per year. Cadiz proposes to withdraw water at more than 50,000 acre-feet, or 16 billion gallons, per year for 50 years.
Taking that much water would rob the desert of its most precious natural resource and harm the surrounding flora and fauna.
And now the federal government – despite its own science saying Cadiz would take too much water, and legal opinions requiring federal review – has removed itself from the permitting process.
Even the mere appearance of favoritism or special favors for Cadiz is extremely inappropriate, and a concern with this nomination.
National Parks During the Shutdown
I am also concerned that throughout his tenure at Interior, Bernhardt has shown a willingness to ignore the public’s interest for political purposes.
During President Trump’s government shutdown – the longest in U.S. history – Acting Secretary Bernhardt kept most of the national parks open to avoid public backlash for the shutdown.
Left open but severally understaffed, major damage occurred to parks across the country. Few places felt the impact of his poor decision more than Joshua Tree National Park.
Iconic Joshua trees were cut down, cultural artifacts stolen or destroyed, and pristine desert habitat marred by vehicle traffic.
I’ve twice requested from Bernhardt a full accounting of the damage and costs of his decision, and have not received a response.
Offshore Oil Drilling
I’m also deeply concerned by steps Interior has recently taken to expand offshore oil drilling, despite bipartisan opposition from coastal states.
Californians don’t want new offshore drilling along our coast. We still remember the horror of the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, when an offshore oil rig leaked more than 100,000 barrels – the third largest oil spill behind the Exxon-Valdez and Deepwater Horizon disasters.
There has been no new drilling in state waters since that spill and no new drilling in federal waters off the coast of California since 1984.
Now, the Department of the Interior is openly discussing the option of restarting such drilling.
Bernhardt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry give me zero confidence that the Interior Department will reach the right conclusion if he is confirmed.
For the reasons I have stated, I cannot vote to confirm Mr. Bernhardt. And should he be confirmed, I again ask that he fully recuse himself from all matters related to former clients during his tenure as a lobbyist.
I urge my colleagues to carefully consider this nomination before voting.”