|David L. Bernhardt|
|United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior|
August 1, 2017
|Michael L. Connor|
|Solicitor of the United States Department of the Interior|
October 5, 2006 - January 20, 2009
|President||George W. Bush|
|Sue Ellen Wooldridge|
August 17, 1969|
University of Northern Colorado|
George Washington University Law School, J.D.
David L. Bernhardt (born August 17, 1969) is an American attorney and government administrator who currently serves as the United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior. A partner and shareholder at the Colorado law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, he began working for the United States Department of the Interior in 2001, and served as the department's solicitor from 2006 to 2009, among other roles. On April 28, 2017, President Donald Trump nominated him to be the United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 24, 2017. He was then sworn into office on August 1, 2017.
Growing up in Rifle, Colorado, David Bernhardt was active in Colorado politics from the age of sixteen, when he made his case to the Rifle City Council to not levy taxes on arcade games at a teen center he was starting in his hometown. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Northern Colorado in 1990. While at the University of Northern Colorado, he applied and received an internship at the Supreme Court of the United States. He graduated with honors from the George Washington University Law School in 1994. He was admitted to the Colorado Bar Association later that year.
He started his career as a lawyer in Colorado. Early on he worked for U.S. Representative Scott McInnis, a Grand Junction Republican. He worked for McInnis in the 1990s, and then in 1998 he became an associate with Brownstein Hyatt and Farber, a Denver law and lobbying firm.
He began working for the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) in 2001. Early in his career with the DOI, he was deputy chief of staff and counselor to then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton. He also served early on at the DOI as director of congressional and legislative affairs. Later he became solicitor at the DOI after unanimous confirmation from the United States Senate. He was also the United States Commissioner to the International Boundary Commission, U.S. and Canada.
Bernhardt served as Solicitor of the United States Department of the Interior from 2006 to 2009. President George W. Bush nominated him in November 2005, subject to Senate confirmation. He was the DOI deputy solicitor at the time. Bernhardt was sworn into office in November 2006, after being unanimously confirmed by the Senate.
Bernhardt served as DOI Solicitor until 2009. That year he rejoined the Colorado-based law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. Bernhardt became a shareholder in the firm and chairman of the firm's natural resources law practice. Bernhardt's clients included Halliburton, Cobalt International Energy, Samson Resources, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
Through Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Bernhardt represented San Joaquin Valley's Westlands Water District in "a lawsuit that sought to undo court-imposed protections for endangered salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta." Berhardt also represented entities such as the proposed Rosemont Copper open pit mine in Arizona. Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck was involved in representing other mining, oil, and extractive industries, as well as projects such as the Cadiz, Inc. water project in the Mojave Desert around Cadiz, California. Cadiz later refuted that Bernhardt had lobbied directly for Cadiz, although "some environmentalists" said they suspected Bernhardt's involvement when the DOI changed its views to be positive towards the project in March 2017.
In 2011, Bernhardt filed a lawsuit for Westlands that "sought to force the feds to make good on a commitment to build a multibillion-dollar system to dispose of the poisoned water" resulting from toxic irrigation in the Westlands district. Later, through the 2017 bill HR 1769, Westlands agreed to drop the lawsuit in exchange for forgiven debt and long-term access to water from Central Valley Project facilities. In April 2017, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the settlement, but rejected an amendment that would have "barred former Westlands officials or lobbyists -- meaning Bernhardt -- from working on the drainage issue for five years."
Until the end of 2016, he remained an attorney and lobbyist for the San Joaquin Valley's Westlands Water District. In November 2016, Bernhardt de-listed himself as a lobbyist, to avoid "running afoul of the new president's ban on lobbyists joining his administration." After withdrawing his formal registration as a lobbyist, Bernhardt became a consultant to the Westlands Water District. While remaining a lawyer at Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck, after November 2016 Bernhardt was briefly in charge of the Interior Department transition team for President Donald Trump. In that role, he was in charge of overseeing staffing in the DOI along with Devin Nunes. In recent years, he served on the board of directors for the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries, resigning prior to January 2017. By April 2017, he was on a $20,000-a-month retainer for Westlands.
Until resigning by early 2017, he was on the board of the Center for Environmental Science Accuracy and Reliability.
On April 28, 2017, Trump nominated Bernhardt to be the United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior of the Trump administration. The role makes Bernhardt the "top deputy to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and COO of the federal lands and energy agency." The appointment was praised by Zinke, as well as U.S. Representative David Valadao of California, Representative Scott Tipton of Colorado, and Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado. Former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne also supported Bernhardt with his comments.
Other groups criticized Bernhardt as a "high-powered lobbyist" with conflict-of-interest concerns, due to his firm's work on regulation issues with the DOI and his history of representing oil companies and agricultural interests. The appointment was met with strong criticism from conservationists and fishing interests in California, where Bernhardt had worked as a lobbyist and attorney. Also criticizing the choice, the Western Values Project sued the Interior Department to obtain documents about Bernhardt's tenure for the department under George Bush. The head of the Center for Biological Diversity said that Bernhardt had "always sided with big business at the expense of our most imperiled wildlife. If confirmed he'd be a disaster for all endangered species." In the middle of May 2017, before his confirmation hearing, the Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable sent letters to Senators Maria Cantwell and Lisa Murkowski expressing support for Bernhardt. Letters of support were also received from Ducks Unlimited and the Boone and Crocket Club.
He appeared at his confirmation hearing before the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on May 18, 2017. During his questioning, he testified that "we will apply the law and be honest with the science" in reference to the Interior department. During the hearing, he said the president's views, rather than the recommendations of scientists, would guide the Interior Department's policies whenever possible. Ethics issues were raised by Senators such as Maria Cantwell, with Bernhardt replying he took ethics very seriously. He said that unless he received authorization to do so, he would not involve himself substantially in any matter involving his former clients.
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