Garfield County commissioners support Bernhardt for Interior |

Garfield County commissioners support Bernhardt for Interior

Acting Secretary David Bernhardt visiting Watson Hopper Inc. in Hobbs, New Mexico.
Tami A. Heilemann/U.S. Department of the Interior/FLICK

The Garfield County Board of County Commissioners are taking a stand supporting the nomination of David Bernhardt to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior as the battle lines are drawn over the somewhat controversial nominee.

President Donald Trump announced in February that he would nominate Bernhardt, a native of Garfield County, to replace former Secretary Ryan Zinke. He formally sent the nomination to the Senate Friday.

Bernhardt has served as acting director of Interior, which oversees the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, since Zinke’s departure in January.

On Monday, the Garfield County commissioners ratified a letter addressed to the White House and Colorado’s two U.S. Senators supporting Bernhardt’s nomination.

Bernhardt, who grew up in Rifle, is “uniquely qualified for this post,” the letter said, adding that he “witnessed the integral relationship between local economic volatility tied directly to federal land policy decisions” during the oil shale boom and bust in the 1980s.

Bernhardt “clearly understands our western culture, values and heritage; moreover, he understands the important role federal lands policy plays in our way of life in the west,” the letter said.

Underscoring the importance of federal land policy making is that Garfield County sits on the massive Piceance Basin, which has, according to a 2016 U.S. Geological Survey report, vast untapped shale oil and natural gas deposits, the letter states.

That survey “would conservatively place this basin as the second largest producible shale basin in North America,” the commissioners wrote.

Conservation groups in Colorado are concerned with Bernhardt’s priorities. Bernhardt previously lobbied for oil companies before the Senate confirmed his nomination as deputy secretary of Interior in 2017.

“Based on what we saw when [Bernhardt] was working under Zinke, and his history of lobbying for corporate polluters and extractive industries, we are very concerned that Bernhardt will ramp up this administration’s efforts to get public lands into the hands of oil and gas companies, and eliminate regulations intended to benefit the public and the environment,” said Peter Hart, staff attorney for the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop.

Bernhardt’s nomination will be taken up by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which has not scheduled a confirmation hearing.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairman of the committee, promised to “seek to move his nomination forward as expeditiously as possible.”

Bernhardt “is an excellent choice and has demonstrated he is more than capable of leading on a permanent basis,” Murkowski said in a statement Friday.

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, has voiced his support for Bernhardt.

In February, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet said: “Although I respect David Bernhardt as a Coloradan, I cannot support his nomination to serve as Secretary of the Interior.”

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