[env-trinity] Bernhardt may be auditioning for role of a lifetime

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Jan 30 11:16:17 PST 2019


Bernhardt may be auditioning for role of a lifetime
Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter  Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt delivers a speech last year. Interior Department

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt looks increasingly like he's in the midst of a high-stakes tryout for the starring role.

Thrust into the temporary job by the departure of former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Bernhardt has since been polishing his performance even amid the partial government shutdown that shuttered most of his department while some potential competitors began to fade.

For those reading the tea leaves:

The 49-year-old lawyer and former lobbyist has had several meetings at the White House, including a Jan. 15 morning get-together with presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway and, according to an informed source, a Dec. 18 meeting with President Trump.

He emphatically praised Trump and his border security priority when the shutdown ended, always a good play with the praise-loving president. Substantively, Bernhardt has been advancing the administration's agenda with moves like continuing oil and gas permitting amid the shutdown (Greenwire, Jan. 17).

Competence is one of Bernhardt's chief selling points, his allies and antagonists agree.

"If they don't nominate David, it would be a colossal mistake of epic proportions. No one knows the agency better and how to get things done. Very little will be accomplished without him at the helm," said a former Interior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I suspect if he doesn't get the nod, he leaves. Then nothing gets accomplished."

And in a backhanded acknowledgement of Bernhardt's status, the environmental group Center for Western Priorities commissioned a warning-shot poll last week in his home state of Colorado.

"Bernhardt ... is in the running for the job permanently and is expected to continue pursuing President Trump's agenda to increase oil and gas development," surveyors told residents, before prompting them with questions like "How concerned are you that clients he previously lobbied for have business before the Department of the Interior that he now manages?"

When Zinke announced Dec. 15 that he would be resigning, Trump declared on Twitter that he would name a replacement "next week." Since then, other potential candidates' stars have risen and fallen while Bernhardt has kept steadily plugging away at Interior headquarters (Greenwire, Dec. 19, 2018).

Former Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, once deemed eminently confirmable by his former Senate colleagues, has since dropped off the speculation radar, with one connected source stating flatly that he's out of contention. Another early candidate who had rallied some key support, former California GOP congressman Jeff Denham, has likewise seemed to sink in the standings.

Some White House officials, meanwhile, reportedly remain keen on former Colorado Rep. Cynthia Lummis, while the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Utah Republican Rob Bishop, has champions of his own.

But one school of thought is that the longer the administration waits, the more opportunities Bernhardt has, both to show his suitability to the White House and to grow comfortable with a position that would require him to endure renewed Senate scrutiny.

Turnover at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee could also help Bernhardt's cause and ease at least some of the decisionmaking by the married father of two teenagers. The panel's former top Democrat, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, led opposition to Bernhardt's initial 2017 nomination as deputy secretary. "I cannot support Mr. Bernhardt," Cantwell said then. "I don't think he would provide the proper consideration and implementation of public policies that represent interests across the United States of America."

But Cantwell has since moved back into the committee's rank and file. The current ranking Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, was one of only four Senate Democrats, along with an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, to support Bernhardt.

For now, Bernhardt is doing what Cabinet secretaries do, as when he greeted returning Interior workers back to headquarters Monday morning.

"Bernhardt shook my hand and said 'I'm glad you came back!'" one current Interior employee recounted in an email, provided on the condition of anonymity. "Not sure if he was trying to be funny or serious?!"
Twitter: @MichaelDoyle10 Email: mdoyle at eenews.net
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