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Congressman Ruben Gallego

Representing the 7th District of Arizona

David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary may be one of the worst things for Arizona

March 27, 2019
In The News

Opinion: There may not be a worse person to lead Interior than acting Secretary David Bernhardt.

If it wasn’t for former Secretary Ryan Zinke, I wouldn’t be able to think of a worse person to lead the agency in charge of protecting our nation’s public lands, managing our natural resources and honoring our trust responsibilities to indigenous peoples than acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

But that is who President Trump has nominated to serve as the Secretary of the Department of Interior.

Bernhardt has worked tirelessly to roll back environmental protections in order to exploit our nation’s public lands, air, and water for profit. In fact, he spent so much of his career as a lobbyist for a range of fossil fuel and energy corporations that he has to carry around a card at all times that lists his numerous conflicts of interest.

Bernhardt would be well-positioned and likely to expand on Secretary Zinke’s legacy of stripping protections from our environment and our nation’s public lands and wildlife, undermining our tribal trust responsibilities, and using the DOI as a tool to benefit his former clients.

He lobbied for a disastrous open-pit mine

The stakes of Bernhardt’s confirmation are perhaps highest in Arizona, where he spent years as a lobbyist for the proposed open-pit Rosemont Copper Mine near Tucson. In 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency found that the mine “will cause or contribute to significant degradation of water” and that “discharges of fill material into streams and springs to construct the mine site will cause unacceptable adverse impacts to wildlife and wildlife habitat.”

It would also cut off access to ancestral homeland for multiple Arizona tribes, who have joined environmental groups in filing lawsuits against the installation.

The bottom line is that, if it goes into operation, Rosemont mine will threaten critical water resources in Arizona, damage sensitive ecosystems and destroy sacred tribal cultural and religious sites. As head of Interior, Bernhardt would be in the perfect position to help ram this project through to line the pockets of a foreign corporation – his former client – at the expense of our public resources.

Using public trust for private gain would be nothing new for Bernhardt. Since his appointment as deputy secretary in 2017, Interior has made at least 15 policy changes, decisions or proposals that would directly benefit Bernhardt's former clients.

Arizona relies on its public land

Our natural assets are in jeopardy with someone in charge who has already offered oil and gas leases next to national parks, monuments, and historical sites. Even the iconic Grand Canyon is under siege from nearby uranium mining.

This is not what most Arizonans want for their public lands and it’s not what is in the best interest of the Arizona economy. The bipartisan 2019 Conservation in the West poll of Western voters showed strong support for public lands protections and disapproval for the Zinke and Bernhardt-led energy-focused agenda being carried out at the Department of Interior.

Finally, our public lands and outdoor recreation generate millions of dollars in tourism, economic development, and tax revenue for our state. Many businesses are increasingly prioritizing access to the outdoors to attract and retain top talent. Protecting our state’s natural beauty isn’t just a moral issue — it’s good business!

We need Interior leadership that doesn’t place energy development above our water, wildlife, public lands, indigenous communities and local economies. That’s why I urge my Senate colleagues to soundly reject Acting Secretary Bernhardt’s nomination to the Department of Interior.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat, represents Congressional District 7 in metro Phoenix. On Twitter: @RepRubenGallego.