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  • Donald Tump and acting U.S. Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt arrive to place a wreath at the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, U.S., Jan. 21, 2019.

    Donald Tump and acting U.S. Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt arrive to place a wreath at the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, U.S., Jan. 21, 2019. | Photo: REUTERS

Published 5 February 2019

Bernhardt has long been an advocate of reducing the Endangered Species Act, the law that protects plants and animals at risk from resource extraction and development.

President Donald Trump announced Monday he would nominate former oil lobbyist David Bernhardt to his cabinet as the secretary of the interior, the department that oversees U.S. public lands.

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Bernhardt, currently the acting secretary at the Interior Department, is widely expected to continue pushing the Trump administration's plan to boost domestic fossil fuel production by opening more U.S. public lands to drilling and mining.

The nomination would then have to be approved by the United States Senate which currently holds a Republican majority. Some Senators however have already taken to social media to express their reservations with the appointment:

Bernhardt would replace Ryan Zinke, who was under a cloud of ethics investigations and announced his resignation in December.

The Interior Department, which employs more than 70,000 people and oversees more than 20 percent of the U.S. land surface, has been central to Trump's "energy dominance" policy of boosting energy production, despite its stated mission of being responsible for managing and conserving land and natural resources.

As Zinke's deputy, Bernhardt has played a role in efforts to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, ease Obama-era protections on a bird called the greater sage grouse to boost drilling and mining across the West, and open federal lands to leases for coal mining.

Conservationist are also concerned by the appointment, saying: "Trump has once again nominated a corrupt industry hack to lead a critical federal agency," Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels program manager for Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. "The Senate must reject Bernhardt because he will undoubtedly put his fossil fuel industry friends before the American people and our environment."

After working under Bush, Bernhardt became a lawyer and lobbyist at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck for water and oil interests. He represented Noble Energy Inc , Rosemont Copper Co, Sempra Energy , and California's Westlands Water District, among others.

Bernhardt has long been an advocate of reforming the Endangered Species Act, the law that protects plants and animals at risk from resource extraction and development. If he is approved by the Senate, Bernhardt is expected to continue that work.

Critics say Bernhardt's previous work as a lobbyist could risk conflicts of interest, unless he recuses himself from certain issues, because he worked for companies that could benefit by opening up lands to development.

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