Democrats Assail David Bernhardt’s Ethics at Senate Hearing on His Nomination to Be Interior Secretary

As a partner in the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Mr. Bernhardt lobbied for the oil companies Cobalt International Energy and Samson Resources. His legal clients included the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents dozens of oil companies, and Halliburton Energy Services, the oil and gas extraction firm that was led by Dick Cheney before he became vice president.

As deputy secretary of the Interior Department, Mr. Bernhardt was the lead author of a revision of a program to protect tens of millions of acres of habitat of the imperiled sage grouse, a puffy-chested, chicken-like bird found in 10 oil-rich Western states. His final sage grouse plan, issued this month, would strip away protections from about nine million acres of the bird’s habitat, a move that, in a stroke, opened up more land to oil and gas drilling than any other single policy action by the Trump administration.

In March last year, a group of oil companies and an industry group, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, wrote to Mr. Bernhardt to thank him for his work on actions “that rescinded and revised mitigation policies that far exceeded statutory authority.” The groups also listed policies they hoped that Mr. Bernhardt would change, including the sage grouse program, which was put in place under President Barack Obama.

Mr. Bernhardt is also the chief author of a major plan, expected to be finalized and made public in the days or weeks after his Senate confirmation, that would allow the federal government to lease almost any part of the entire United States coastline to oil and gas companies for offshore drilling.

“Bernhardt is working for industry, not the public,” said Andrew Wetzler, managing director of the nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. “The Senate should reject him and demand a nominee who will protect our people, waters, land and wildlife.”

Key Republicans are backing Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination, which is expected to pass the Senate. In 2017, he was confirmed to his post as deputy interior secretary on a party-line vote of 53 to 43.

Mr. Bernhardt’s backers note his experience within the department he is set to lead. Mr. Bernhardt was a senior official in the agency during the George W. Bush administration and is widely seen as an experienced and effective policymaker.

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