President Donald Trump on Monday said he had nominated David Bernhardt, the acting secretary of the interior, to take on the job permanently after former Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned in December amid ethics investigations.
“David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed!” Trump tweeted Monday.
Some media outlets, including Bloomberg and the Washington Post, had reported that Bishop, Northern Utah’s representative to the U.S. House, had been under consideration, along with Bernhardt and others. Whatever the case, that he wasn’t picked didn’t bother Bishop, who lauded Trump’s selection.
“It’s a brilliant move. No one is more experienced and I look forward to working with him,” said Bishop, a Republican from Brigham City. Even before Monday’s news, Bishop told KPCW, the Park City-based public radio station, that he thought Bernhardt would be the best choice, citing Bernhardt’s understanding of the agency and ability as a civil servant to get things done.
The Department of Interior manages much of the federal land spread across the country, a lot of it in the western United States. Much of the land across Utah is federally owned, underscoring the significance of the department to the state.
Bernhardt took over as acting secretary following Ryan Zinke’s decision to step down as head of the department last month after less than two years in office. Zinke’s departure came amid several ethics investigations into him.
Though Bishop lauded Bernhardt, Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, had sharper words. Grijalva chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, which Bishop led until Democrats took control of the House after elections last November.
“David Bernhardt spent much of his career lobbying for fossil fuel and agricultural interests, and the president putting him in charge of regulating his former clients is a perfect example of everything wrong with this administration. We intend to conduct vigorous oversight of Mr. Bernhardt’s industry ties and how they may influence his policy decisions,” Grijalva said in a statement.
Bernhardt, from Colorado, first served in Interior as a political appointee under President George W. Bush, becoming the agency’s top lawyer.
During Zinke and Bernhardt’s tenure, the Interior Department has pushed to open more Alaskan wilderness and offshore waters to oil and gas development, the Associated Press reported.
“Bernhardt got this nomination as a reward for months of work cramming America’s natural heritage into a wood chipper,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity advocacy group, one of many environmental organizations condemning Trump’s intended nomination. “Confirming him as Interior secretary would be a boon to polluters and a colossal disaster for our public lands and endangered species.”
Associated Press contributed to this report.