The Interior Department Descends Back Into the Swamp

Trump Administration

Cut off one head of Big Oil, and another middle-aged, pasty one will take its place.

David Bernhardt was formally approved by the Senate on Thursday to replace Ryan Zinke as secretary of the Interior. The former deputy secretary of the department, Bernhardt was approved by a vote of 56-41. The New York Times reports that Democratic senators Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Martin Heinrich, of New Mexico, were the only two of their party to join with Republicans for the vote.

The easiest way to think about the new head of Interior is that Bernhardt is essentially the Cheney to Zinke’s Bush. Whereas Zinke was a bumbling idiot and D.C. outsider too dumb to not get caught up in what was basically a straight up pay-for-play setup with Big Oil in Montana, Bernhardt is a product of the swamp. For the past two decades, he’s worked in the Interior or as an oil lobbyist; in every role, he’s represented the worst of the capitalistic, strip-the-earth-bare mentality that pervades the American energy sector. Hell, he even worked on behalf of Halliburton at one point. (Zinke, did too, in a way, but again, he was a complete dolt about it.)

In his new role—which includes being atop the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Environment Protection Agency—Bernhardt will likely not only look to roll back recent protections for areas like Chaco Canyon and policies like the Endangered Species Act, but is also likely to be a major proponent of offshore drilling in states like Florida and others along the East, West, and Gulf coasts. Now, none of those measures are new for the department. Since President Donald Trump took office, he has repeatedly made the decision to double-down on privatizing and drilling on as much land as possible—just yesterday, Trump signed an executive order that will clear the way for various pipeline projects. What Bernhardt provides him is a department head with a Rolodex from Hell and the political savvy to complete every horrendous task on his to-do list without getting caught up in investigations like his predecessor.

You can read more about his horrendous record on privatizing and drilling on public or Native land here, but suffice to say, this is not a win for anyone who gives a damn about the future of Native nations’ treaties, a non-corrupt government, or our planet.

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