Emails show Trump official consulting with climate change deniers to challenge scientific findings

A Trump administration official consulted with advisers to a think tank skeptical of climate change to help challenge widely accepted scientific findings about global warming, according to emails obtained by The Associated Press.

William Happer, a member of the National Security Council, made the request to policy advisers with the Heartland Institute this March.

Happer and Heartland Institute adviser Hal Doiron discussed Happer’s scientific arguments in a paper attempting to knock down climate change as well as ideas to make the work “more useful to a wider readership” in a March 3 email exchange.

Happer also said he had discussed the work with another Heartland Institute adviser, Thomas Wysmuller, according to the emails obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request by the Environmental Defense Fund.

The National Security Council declined to comment on the emails. 

Jim Lakely, interim president of Heartland Institute, told The Hill that the government’s stances on climate change are not above question.

“As for Wysmuller and Doiron, they are unpaid policy advisors and friends of The Heartland Institute and have known Dr. Happer for many years,” he said.

“It would be hard to find a group of men with more qualifications or experience to criticize NASA’s alarmist public statements on the climate than Happer, Doiron, and Wysmuller.”

The Trump administration is reportedly considering creating a new panel headed by Happer to the question the broad scientific consensus that climate change is driven by human activity and is potentially dangerous.

Democratic lawmakers have raised concerns over the proposed panel, saying it would fly in the face of scientific evidence.

Happer is a well-known climate change skeptic, having argued that carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas from the burning of coal, oil and gas, is good for humans and that carbon emissions have been demonized like “the poor Jews under Hitler.”

[The Hill]

White House blocked State official’s written testimony over climate references

White House officials blocked a State Department intelligence agency from submitting written testimony warning Congress that human-caused climate change could be “possibly catastrophic,” The Washington Post reported Friday.

The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research prepared testimony for the House Intelligence Committee and declined to take out the document’s mentions of scientific data on climate change.

Rod Schoonover, who works in the Office of the Geographer and Global Issues, was prepared to present his testimony in person during a Wednesday hearing, the newspaper reported.

Officials from the White House’s Office of Legislative Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, and National Security Council all raised objections to his remarks, the Post reported.

They wished to cut several pages because the descriptions on climate science did not match the Trump administration’s official stance, according to senior administration officials who spoke with the newspaper on the condition of anonymity.

Schoonover, a former professor of chemistry and biochemistry at California Polytechnic State University, was given permission to appear before the House panel but was not allowed to submit his office’s statement for the record. He ultimately did not submit his testimony to the committee, an aide said.

White House officials reportedly objected to the document’s scientific citations, which refer to work conducted by federal agencies including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.

One Trump official said it did not “jibe” with the Trump White House’s goals on climate change, a source told the Post.

The president has long cast doubt on the existence and effects of climate change, previously suggesting that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese.

He pulled the U.S. out of the international Paris climate accord in 2017 and downplayed a U.S. government report on the environment.

Just this week, Trump said he dismissed Prince Charles’s concerns about the negative impact on climate change and insisted that weather “changes both ways.”

“Don’t forget: It used to be called ‘global warming.’ That wasn’t working. Then it was called ‘climate change.’ Now it’s actually called ‘extreme weather’ because with extreme weather you can’t miss,” Trump told British commentator Piers Morgan.

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research’s 12-page prepared testimony, reviewed by The Washington Post, detailed how rising greenhouse gas emissions raise global temperatures and acidify oceans.

“Climate-linked events are disruptive to humans and societies when they harm people directly or substantially weaken the social, political, economic, environmental, or infrastructure systems that support people,” the statement reads, noting that while some populations may benefit from climate change. “The balance of documented evidence to date suggests that net negative effects will overwhelm the positive benefits from climate change for most of the world, however.”

[The Hill]

Trump, pressed on the environment in U.K. visit, says climate change goes ‘both ways’

His eldest daughter, Ivanka, could not change his mind.

His former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, could not change his mind.

Scores of international scientists could not change his mind.

And now, President Trump, who has called global warming a “Chinese hoax” and pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, appears similarly unmoved by an appeal from British royalty.

The president left a 90-minute meeting this week with Charles, Prince of Wales, unconvinced that the climate is warming, which it is, according to overwhelming scientific consensus. The Earth’s average surface temperature in 2018 was the fourth-highest since 1880, when record-keeping began. That means that the past five years have been the warmest in recorded history.

But the president has other beliefs.

“I believe that there’s a change in weather, and I think it changes both ways,” he said in a wide-ranging interview with Piers Morgan on “Good Morning Britain” that aired Wednesday morning. “Don’t forget it used to be called global warming. That wasn’t working. Then it was called climate change. Now it’s actually called extreme weather, because with extreme weather, you can’t miss.”

Trump cited severe conditions from long ago as evidence for his views, even though scientists say extreme events are becoming more common, driven by climate change. 

“Forty years ago, we had the worst tornado binge we’ve ever had,” Trump said. “In the 1890s, we had our worst hurricanes.”

He said he was impressed by the passion displayed by the Prince of Wales, who has been an outspoken advocate on climate issues. The two were supposed to meet for 15 minutes, Trump said, but ended up speaking for an hour and a half. He said he shared the prince’s desire for a “good climate as opposed to a disaster.” 

But the president blamed China, India and Russia for polluting the environment and said the United States was responsible for “among the cleanest climates.”

Carbon dioxide emissions by the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter, rose an estimated 3.4 percent in 2018, according to findings published in January by the independent economic research firm Rhodium Group. And as the White House gears up to counter the consensus on climate change, it has tapped William Happer, a National Security Council senior director, to lead the effort. Happer once said, “The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”

In the interview with Morgan in the Churchill War Rooms, Trump also weighed in on his administration’s standoff with Iran, saying he would prefer not to take military action while maintaining, “There’s always a chance.” He said he understood the “terrible responsibility” that comes with access to the country’s nuclear arsenal. 

He also said he wanted to look into the issue of suppressors that muffle the sound of gunfire, one of which was used in the shooting that left 12 people dead last week in Virginia Beach. ADVERTISING

“What’s happening is crazy,” Trump said of the scourge of gun violence. Yet he also pointed to knife crime in Britain and 2015 attacks at the Bataclan theater in Paris — carried out by Islamic State-inspired gunmen, whom Trump termed a “wacky group of people” — in an apparent suggestion that brutality was not a uniquely American phenomenon. Morgan replied, “More people were shot dead in America last week than died from guns in Paris since the Second World War.”

So, too, Trump discussed several personal feuds. Morgan, the “Good Morning Britain” host and former champion of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” told Trump he thought his continued attacks on John McCain, the late Republican senator from Arizona, were “beneath” him. 

“No, I don’t attack him,” Trump said. “People ask me, like you’re asking me. I didn’t bring his name up; you did.” Of the directive to obscure the USS John S. McCain warship while Trump was visiting Japan, the president said he bore no responsibility for it, adding, “I’m not even sure it happened.” 

He also blamed the media for stoking conflict between him and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. When he said he had not realized she had been “nasty” toward him, he was not labeling her “nasty,” he asserted, instead only observing that she had criticized him. In fact, when asked about Meghan Markle’s criticism of him before the 2016 election, he told the Sun newspaper, “I didn’t know that she was nasty.”

Trump remarked to Morgan: “Hey, join the crowd, right?” He said of the American member of the British royal family, “I hope she enjoys her life.”

As for himself, Trump said being hosted in Britain, including for a lavish state banquet in Buckingham Palace, was among the highlights of his life.

As the interview was airing Wednesday morning, Trump took to Twitter to play down protests that brought tens of thousands of people to the streets of London, suggesting falsely that the crowds had gathered in support of him. 

[Washington Post]

Media

EPA chief attacks the media in speech to agency science advisers

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Andrew Wheeler, chose to go “off script” Wednesday morning when he warned the agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) against trusting the media.

“I caution you to be careful what you read in the media,” Wheeler said, concluding his remarks to the public meeting — the first time the SAB has meet in a year.

Wheeler was specifically referring to a tweet by Yahoo News journalist Alexander Nazaryan on Monday which quoted Wheeler telling the National Press Club, “‘The media does a disservice to the American public’ by reporting on global warming, says EPA head Andrew Wheeler. Wants more positive coverage.”

And indeed, on Monday, Wheeler did take time to list five things he believes the press “consistently gets wrong” — this included reporting that the environment is getting worse. Instead, the press should be talking more about how it’s been getting better since the 1970s, Wheeler argued.

Nazaryan’s tweet was quickly circulated around the internet, including by a New York Times journalist and the Sierra Club. In response, the EPA sent out a press release stating that the tweet was “misleading,” and accused the Yahoo journalist of choosing to “deliberately spread false information on Twitter.”

This argument was reiterated on Wednesday by Wheeler, who said the fact that the Sierra Club started promoting the tweet made him wonder whether the media and environmental groups were “colluding” for fundraising purposes.

Under the Trump administration, however, the EPA has actively worked to rollback environmental protections, often in line with fossil fuel or other industry interests. Most recently this includes challenging the underlying risk calculations that support clean air rules.

The media has played a critical role in reporting on, and investigating, not just these various policy decisions but also potential ethics controversies and conflicts of interest plaguing the agency.

But Wheeler urged scientists not to trust the media and come to him or other top EPA officials if they had questions or concerns.

This isn’t the first time that the Trump administration’s EPA has “fact-checked” the media or been antagonistic toward reporters. Last year, reporters from major news outlets, including the Associated Press and CNN, were banned from attending a summit on harmful chemicals; one journalist was even forcibly removed by security.

And in September 2017, the EPA’s press office sent out a press release titled “EPA Response To The AP’s Misleading Story,” which accused AP reporter Michael Biesecker of writing an “incredibly misleading story” about Superfund sites and Hurricane Harvey. (The EPA did not, however, contradict any facts in Biesecker’s story.)

Meanwhile, the EPA has used articles written by climate science deniers, including the Heartland Institute and the Daily Caller, as their own press releases rather than citing expert staff members — a move which the National Association of Science Writers labeled “unprofessional” and “unethical.”

All of this is part of the larger confrontational relationship with the press promoted by President Donald Trump, who consistently calls media “fake news” and has repeatedly encouraged violence against the media.

[ThinkProgress]

US Department of Energy is now referring to fossil fuels as “freedom gas”

Call it a rebranding of “energy dominance.”

In a press release published on Tuesday, two Department of Energy officials used the terms “freedom gas” and “molecules of US freedom” to replace your average, everyday term “natural gas.”

Rick Perry says carbon dioxide is not a primary driver of climate changeThe press release was fairly standard, announcing the expansion of a Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminal at the Freeport facility on Quintana Island, Texas. It would have gone unnoticed had an E&E News reporter not noted the unique metonymy “molecules of US freedom.”

The press release was fairly standard, announcing the expansion of a Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminal at the Freeport facility on Quintana Island, Texas. It would have gone unnoticed had an E&E News reporter not noted the unique metonymy “molecules of US freedom.”

DOE Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg is quoted as saying, “With the US in another year of record-setting natural gas production, I am pleased that the Department of Energy is doing what it can to promote an efficient regulatory system that allows for molecules of US freedom to be exported to the world.”

Also in the press release, US Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes refers to natural gas as “freedom gas” in his quote: “Increasing export capacity from the Freeport LNG project is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world by giving America’s allies a diverse and affordable source of clean energy.”

Slate notes that the term “freedom gas” seems to have originated from an event with DOE Secretary Rick Perry. Earlier this year, the secretary signed an order to double the amount of LNG exports to Europe, saying, “The United States is again delivering a form of freedom to the European continent. And rather than in the form of young American soldiers, it’s in the form of liquefied natural gas.”

A reporter at the order signing jokingly asked whether the LNG shipments should be called “freedom gas,” and Perry said, “I think you may be correct in your observation.”

If the DOE is still running with the term as a joke, then the wit in the Energy Secretary’s office is bone dry. Ars contacted the DOE to see if “freedom gas” and “molecules of US freedom” are now going to be standard in department communication with the public. We are also curious if any potential drop in LNG exports could result in patriotism bloat. The DOE has not responded, though we’ll update the story if it does.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), Canada, Mexico, South Korea, and Japan were the top importers of freedom gas last year. China, India, and the UK buy a smaller number of molecules of US freedom.

USDA farms out economists whose work challenges Trump policies

The Agriculture Department is moving nearly all its researchers into the economic effects of climate change, trade policy and food stamps – subjects of controversial Trump administration initiatives – outside of Washington, part of what employees claim is a political crackdown on economists whose assessments have raised questions about the president’s policies.

Since last year, employees in the department’s Economic Research Service have awaited news of which members of their agency would be forced to relocate, after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue stunned them by declaring he was moving most of the agency to a location outside the capital. The announcement sparked claims that Perdue was trying to pressure economists into leaving the agency rather than move their families.

On March 5, the department began notifying people who were allowed to stay in Washington, but didn’t provide a comprehensive list, only telling employees in person if they made the cut.

But current and former employees compiled one anyway, covering all 279 people on staff, 76 of whom are being allowed to stay in Washington.

The current and former employees, all of whom requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation, say the specialties of those who are being asked to move corresponds closely to the areas where economic assessments often clash with the president’s policies, including tax policies, climate change, and the farm economy. The list, shared exclusively with POLITICO, shows a clear emphasis was placed on keeping employees whose work covers relatively non-controversial issues like crop planting over those whose research focused on areas sensitive to the administration.

“This was a clear politicization of the agency many of us loved for its non-partisan research and analysis,” a current ERS employee told POLITICO, claiming that department leaders picked those whose work was more likely to offend the administration and forced them to move “out or quit.”

A former researcher who left last month in anticipation of being moved put it this way: “You can draw the conclusion that these are the less valued activities that are undertaken by ERS. They view ERS as being useful in that it produces data and statistics that can inform policy but the research that’s done by the economists and geographers and statisticians at ERS is less valuable and that they’re not concerned with a significant deterioration in ERS’ ability to do research.”

A USDA spokesman declined to directly address the employees’ allegation of political bias, but provided a written statement from Perdue saying that the moves were not prompted by the work being done by ERS

“None of this reflects on the jobs being done by our . . . employees, and in fact, I frequently tell my Cabinet colleagues that USDA has the best workforce in the federal government,” Perdue said. “These changes are more steps down the path to better service to our customers, and will help us fulfill our informal motto to ‘Do right and feed everyone. . .”

“We don’t undertake these relocations lightly, and we are doing it to improve performance and the services these agencies provide. We will be placing important USDA resources closer to many stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from Washington, D.C. We will be saving money for the taxpayers and improving our ability to retain more employees in the long run. And we are increasing the probability of attracting highly-qualified staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from land-grant universities.”

But employees claim the department’s leadership, including Perdue, turned against the research service after an estimate early last year suggested that the Republican-backed tax plan would largely benefit the wealthiest farmers.

Perdue’s decision to move ERS came several months after news outlets highlighted the USDA study on the Republican tax changes. In response to Perdue’s move, cities from all over the country submitted bids to host the ERS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which will also move. The finalists, announced May 3, were the greater Kansas City area, North Carolina‘s Research Triangle Park and multiple locations in Indiana.

Accompanying his announcement of a final selection, which is expected as early as this week, Perdue has promised to provide Congress with a cost-benefit analysis detailing why USDA says the move makes financial sense.

The impending announcement comes as pressure builds on Capitol Hill to stop the move. On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider a spending bill that includes a provision barring the Agriculture Department from moving the two agencies out of the national capital zone. It also would block Perdue’s decision to put ERS under the control of USDA’s chief economist, a move that placed oversight of the agency closer to the secretary’s office.

Employees said that moving nearly all researchers out of Washington would have a clear impact on the agency’s work. Researchers said they usually draw on information from other USDA divisions, members of Congress and Washington-based stakeholder groups, which would be more difficult from a remote location. Allowing 76 members of the agency to stay in Washington while the other left also impacts morale, they said, and limits collaboration.

Among the employees staying in Washington are senior analysts who conduct global market and crop-outlook estimates and administrative personnel. According to the list, approximately 49 percent of agricultural economists will be allowed to remain in Washington, compared with 14 percent of researchers.

Rumors had been swirling among staff for months about who would be allowed to remain in Washington when all ERS employees were called into an auditorium in March to be briefed by Acting Administrator Chris Hartley. He then read aloud the names of those who qualified to stay. But it wasn’t until employees compiled a full roster of who was staying and going that they got a clear picture of how the agency would be split up.

Decisions on who would stay in Washington were made by ERS leadership and approved by Perdue, according to a “Frequently Asked Questions” document distributed at the March meeting. The FAQ states that “every ERS employee had the ability to provide input” on the move. Senior managers “proposed critical ERS functions” that they believed needed to remain in Washington.

Some employees said that description of the decision-making process validates their concerns that Perdue was behind the move.

“They went in and handpicked who they wanted and called them ‘critical,’” said a current ERS employee.

Neil Conklin, a former senior administrator at ERS under the George W. Bush administration, said the agency stands to be fundamentally changed by the relocation.

“This is going to be very destructive of the agency, as certainly as we’ve known it,” Conklin said.

[Politico]

Trump claimed wind turbines cause cancer

President Donald Trump on Tuesday launched his latest wild attack on wind turbines, an energy source that has long attracted his ire.

“They say the noise causes cancer,” the president said of the turbines at the National Republican Congressional Committee fundraiser in Washington, DC.

Trump linked the technology to his former presidential rival Hillary Clinton, saying she “wanted to put up wind.”

“If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations your house just went down 75% in value. And they say the noise causes cancer, you tell me that one, OK?” Trump said, imitating the whirring noise made by the turbines.

He went on to express concern for the effect of turbines on wild-bird populations.

“The thing makes so much noise, and, of course, it’s like a graveyard for birds. If you loved birds, you’d never want to walk under a windmill again,” Trump said.

Scientists have long rejected the decades-old claims of those who say that wind turbines cause a variety of illnesses, including cancer.

Simon Chapman, a professor in public health at the University of Sydney in Australia, in a 2012 article reviewed stories of people who had illnesses they blamed on turbines.

He suggested that the illnesses — which were real — were not attributable to the turbines but instead were “psychogenic,” which means they were caused by anxiety and unrest.

It is true that many birds are killed by flying into wind turbines. However, far more are killed by flying into cellphone and radio towers, or by being mauled to death by cats.

In February, Trump lost a long-running legal battle with the Scottish government over a wind farm near one of his golf courses.

Before the 2016 US presidential election, he launched the battle over an offshore farm near his golf course in Aberdeenshire in northwest Scotland. He lost and had to pay legal bills for himself and the Scottish government.

Last week, Trump attacked wind power at a rally in Michigan, saying that if the wind doesn’t blow, televisions and other electronic devices will lose power.

In fact, turbines can store the energy to be used in times of calm.

[Business Insider]

Trump says wind power doesn’t work because ‘it only blows sometimes’

President Trump late Wednesday repeated his opposition to wind power, pushing a misleading claim that it would not work as an energy source because the wind “only blows sometimes.”

The president made the comments during a phone interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, as part of his remarks on how his presidency has been “tougher … on Russia” than any other past presidents.

“It’s what we have done with energy and oil and gas. That’s all competition from, for Russia,” Trump said. “You look at the Ukraine. You look at so many different levels. You look at our military.”

“You look at the fact that we would have been powered by wind, which wouldn’t have worked by the way because it only blows sometimes and lots of problems come about.”

The comment echoes Trump’s repeated past criticisms of wind power. Just one week earlier, he mocked the concept of wind power by mimicking a man telling his spouse: “Turn off the television darling, please. There’s no wind, please turn off the television quickly.”

The Department of Energy explains on its website that power grids are designed to accommodate variability from energy generation sources, such as wind and solar, without having to rely on “backup” energy sources.

Trump, who campaigned on restoring coal jobs to the U.S., has long opposed wind turbines based on a number of arguments, including saying that the “windmills” will decrease property values and that turbines are a “killing field” for birds.

The Energy Department also notes that bird deaths from wind turbines are rare and pale in comparison to bird deaths from collisions with buildings and declining habitats from infrastructure development.

According to a new study released this week by a nonpartisan think tank, solar and wind power are on track to phase out coal as cheaper energy alternatives within the next few years.

[The Hill]

Reality

Trump Parrots Fox & Friends Segment Claiming Climate Crisis is ‘Fake News,’ ‘Fake Science’

In his latest Fox & Friends live-tweeting session, President Donald Trumpapplauded former Greenpeace president Patrick Moore for saying the planet’s climate crisis is “fake news” and “fake science.” This comes after Trump echoed a segment of the show where one of his former campaign staffers called on Jews to abandon the Democratic Party.

Moore was invited onto Fox & Friends because he called Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes (D-NY) a “pompous little twit” for her latest defense of the Green New Deal. Sure enough, he used his segment to call the proposal “completely ridiculous” and push his denial of climate change.

Moore went on to bash the majority of the scientific community for their concerns about climate change, saying Greenpeace has been “hijacked by the extreme left” to sell “sensationalism, misinformation, and fear.” He also suggested that global warming could be a good thing, saying that burning fossil fuels and releasing more greenhouse gases will “fertilize” the planet, resulting in a net positive for the environment.

As it were, Greenpeace has responded to Trump, saying that contrary to Moore’s claim, he did not co-found the organization, and they essentially renounced him ever since he started operating as a lobbyist and an advocate for polluters and corporate energy industries.

It’s worth noting the Trump Administration released a report from multiple federal agencies last year that determined global climate change could have extreme long-term consequences for the United States. Then again, Trump has made his skepticism of man-made climate change perfectly clear in the past, so his parroting Moore could just be confirmation bias on his part.

[Mediaite]

Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary

President Trump is picking David Bernhardt, a former energy lobbyist, to be the Interior Department’s next secretary. “I am pleased to announce that David Bernhardt, Acting Secretary of the Interior, will be nominated as Secretary of the Interior,” Trump tweeted Monday. Bernhardt, whose past clients include oil companies and others with business before the Interior Department, will lead an agency that oversees about 500 million acres as well as the energy production on that land. He became the agency’s deputy secretary in 2017 and has led the department on an interim basis since former Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned amid ethics scandals in January. In the weeks since Zinke’s departure, Bernhardt has risen to the top of the list as the most likely candidate Trump would choose for the post. “David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed!” Trump will have to send Bernhardt’s nomination to the Senate, where a majority of senators will have to approved him. “It’s a humbling privilege to be nominated to lead a department whose mission I love, to accomplish the balanced, common sense vision of our President,” Bernhardt said in a statement Monday. The department has 70,000 employees in various agencies overseeing federal land, offshore drilling, endangered species and American Indian affairs, among other duties. As deputy secretary, Bernhardt, a Colorado native, worked hand in hand with Zinke on his oil and gas leasing agenda and took the lead on many others, including the administration’s push to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the rollback of a number of Endangered Species Act regulations. In the past he’s called the ESA an “unnecessary regulatory burden.” The rule proposal he helped roll out in July would make it easier to delist an endangered species and would withdraw a policy that offered the same protections for threatened species as for endangered species unless otherwise specified. Bernhardt has worked at Interior in various capacities, including solicitor during the George W. Bush administration. He has also had multiple stints at the lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, representing clients including Eni Petroleum, Sempra Energy, Halliburton Energy Services, Targa Energy, Noble Energy and the Westlands Water District. Under ethics standards, he has recused himself from matters involving so many former clients that he carries a card with him listing the recusals. Environmental groups immediately denounced Bernhardt’s nomination Monday. “The ethical questions surrounding David Bernhardt and his commitment to pandering to oil, coal, and gas executives make former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke look like a tree-hugging environmentalist in comparison. And Ryan Zinke was a disaster,” Vicky Wyatt, lead climate campaigner for Greenpeace USA, said in a statement. “We already let Bernhardt do enough damage to our federal lands and waters as deputy secretary —  we have to stop him before he destroys some of this country’s best ideas including the Endangered Species Act.” “David Bernhardt’s nomination is an affront to America’s parks and public lands,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation group that has been vocally critical of the Trump administration. “As an oil and gas lobbyist, Bernhardt pushed to open vast swaths of public lands for drilling and mining. As deputy secretary, he was behind some of the worst policy decisions of Secretary Zinke’s sad tenure, including stripping protections for imperiled wildlife.” The industries Interior regulates have largely been supportive of Bernhardt. “We have always been supportive of acting Secretary Bernhardt. We supported his nomination and would support him if the president decides to nominate him to be secretary,” Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters Monday. “In these transitional phases, it’s important that we have strong political leadership, and I think he’s demonstrated that leadership in his time as acting secretary.” Supporters say Bernhardt’s agenda on fossil fuels would likely continue in the same vein as Zinke. “Bernhardt possesses an impressive depth of experience at the Department and knowledge of Interior issues. His selection as secretary will assure that important energy and conservation policies will not miss a beat in the transition,” said Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents offshore oil and wind companies.

“Bernhardt understands that conservation and enhancement of natural resources can and does occur in conjunction with development of natural resources for energy — both on and offshore,” he said. Bernhardt’s nomination will go to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for an initial hearing, and then a vote before the full Senate. That panel’s leaders, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), both voted to confirm him to the deputy secretary position in 2017. Only three other Democrats — Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) — voted for him, and Heitkamp and Donnelly lost reelection last year. Republicans hold 53 of the Senate’s 100 seats, so Bernhardt’s confirmation is likely to go through. One of the most recent controversies surrounding Bernhardt involved the recent partial government shutdown, which furloughed most of Interior’s workforce. He drew criticism after announcing the National Park Service would pull from their entrance fee revenue coffers in order to pay for the clean-up and maintenance of parks left up to the public during the shutdown. “We must provide opportunities for people to access and enjoy our wonderful parks, and we must do so in a way that ensures the same opportunity for future generations to enjoy,” he wrote. Environmentalists, park rangers and politicians alike questioned the legality of the move under the National Park Service Organic and Antideficiency Acts, the main pieces of legislation that govern federal parks and shutdown procedures respectively. The NPS is currently conducting a legal review of that decision. Bernhardt also was criticized for bringing certain furloughed workers back to work on oil and natural gas drilling permits, offshore drilling and drilling in the Alaska refuge. The House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee for Interior, led by Chairwoman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), will hold a hearing this week on the work that Interior did during the shutdown and whether it was legal. Bernhardt floated to the top of a crowded field of potential replacements for Zinke. The candidates included many current or former Republican politicians, according to people familiar with the process, such as ex-Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), ex-Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R) and ex-Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

[The Hill]

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