President Trump announced on Monday that the man he’s tapped to replace sleazeball Ryan Zinke is, unsurprisingly, also a huge piece of shit.
Trump announced on Twitter that he will nominate David Bernhardt, formerly the deputy secretary of the Interior, as Zinke’s replacement. If he’s confirmed, he likely won’t change much about how the Interior operates—with Bernhardt at the helm, the department will continue to be run by a person in Big Oil’s pockets who will carry out its current goals of further ignoring the treaties America signed with Native nations and selling off public lands so they can be stripped and mined by energy companies. The only difference is that you’ll probably hear less about it than when Zinke was running the show because Bernhardt knows how to play the game.
Whereas Zinke was a relative DC outsider before his appointment, Bernhardt is very much a creature of the swamp. For the past 20 years, Bernhardt, either as an Interior employee or a lobbyist, has spent his time in the nation’s capital trying to ease regulations on energy and oil companies.
This includes Bernhardt’s attempts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve for drilling when he was chief of staff to George W. Bush’s Interior Secretary Gale Norton. It also includes a stint as a lobbyist during which he represented basically every evil company that looks at wide open land in the West and thinks, damn, all it’s missing is an oil rig. Per the National Resource Defense Council, his lobbying resumé also includes stops at Samson Resources, Halliburton, Rosemont Copper, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. His work there carried over when he rejoined the Interior—in an op-ed for the Post last August, he laid out his plan for deconstructing the Endangered Species Act.
To state the obvious: The Interior isn’t exactly the sexiest department when it comes to headlines, so it tracks that it took someone as brazenly corrupt as Zinke to draw heavy scrutiny to its day-to-day tasks. But the department is among the most impactful in a number of wide-ranging areas—it contains the Bureau of Indian Affairs; the Interior is also tasked with managing public lands and deciding which tracts are fair game for the private energy industry, which, as of late, has meant basically all of them.
Zinke, corrupt as he was, was also a bumbling idiot when it came to hiding it, which made his ham-handed resignation slightly entertaining. But Bernhardt is a man with a direct line to major DC power players who’s spent 18 years learning that the way to remain in power while also doing terrible things is to be quiet about it. (It should come as no surprise that the Interior already openly stated its disdain for public information requests.)
As the Washington Post reported in an embarrassingly soft profile, Bernhardt carries around a notebook with him filled with a list of names of the people he has a conflict of interest with from his days shilling for Big Oil. If you think every person on that list isn’t smiling a big, evil smile after Monday’s announcement, then I’ve got some oceanfront property in Utah to sell you. And yes, of course you can drill the hell out of it.
Correction: The article originally stated that the Department of the Interior houses the Indian Health Service. The IHS is an agency overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services.