NPCA submitted the following position to members of the Senate ahead of a floor vote scheduled for April 11, 2019.
NPCA urges senators to oppose David Bernhardt as Secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI), when his nomination reaches the Senate floor this week.
In 2017, when Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination for Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior came before the Senate, NPCA did not oppose Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination. In fact, we determined he should be given an opportunity to support the mission of the agencies, including our national parks, public lands and waters, by demonstrating his leadership and willingness to work with diverse interests in a new administration. Unfortunately, over the past two years under the Trump administration, we have been disappointed with Mr. Bernhardt’s repeated actions to undermine our national parks, and therefore oppose his nomination as Secretary. His record of anti-conservation and anti-park proposals and decisions has led to damage to some of our nation’s most prized cultural and natural resources. And NPCA remains concerned that his ongoing role at DOI will only worsen the state of our national parks, the morale of the department and more.
Though there are an unquestionable number of conflicts of interests between Mr. Bernhardt and special interest allies, many of which have been widely publicized, we are even more troubled by his policy decisions. This includes actions related to the recent partial federal government shutdown, the morale of DOI staff, the impacts of a changing climate to our parks and the massive expansion of oil and gas development, among other issues.
While there are dozens of examples of Mr. Bernhardt’s actions that may result in harm to our nation’s parks, his meddling with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) may result in the loss of some of the over 1,600 threatened and endangered species throughout the United States. About a third of those species are found in national parks, places like Great Smoky Mountains, Glacier, and Big Bend National Parks provide some of the best, last or most protected habitats for these plants and animals. Last summer, with Mr. Bernhardt at the helm, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service released three proposed rules that would undermine how the ESA is implemented. These new regulations systematically chip away at the law by decreasing protections for threatened species, ignoring the impacts of climate change and making it harder to protect the habitat species need to survive and recover.
Similarly, under Mr. Bernhardt’s leadership, the West has been inundated by oil and gas leasing. At levels far outpacing demand, with many leases selling for pennies on the dollar, the acreage up for grabs by oil and gas development is unprecedented. Though courts have recently found that the public was unlawfully left out of the process for nearly 70 million acres, it’s clear that the leasing process across the country has cut out public input—leaving gateway communities, outdoor industry and other interested voices out of the conversation about the management of our public lands. From Chaco to Great Sand Dunes, the parks have been flooded with threats from oil and gas industrialization under Bernhardt’s leadership. This simply cannot continue.
During the recent partial government shutdown, national parks across the nation suffered a variety of impacts. From damaged natural resources to excessive trash and human waste, it was both a dangerous and irresponsible way to manage our most treasured places by keeping parks partially open with approximately 13 percent of Park Service staff on duty. As Acting Interior Secretary, Mr. Bernhardt instructed park managers to keep their parks open and to use fee dollars to bring on additional staff to clean restrooms, remove trash, patrol the parks and open areas that have been closed during the shutdown. His direction resulted in direct negligence of park resources and therefore violated the fundamental mission outlined in the National Park Service Organic Act, the founding law that governs the National Park System. Mr. Bernhardt’s approach to the shutdown threatened the health and safety of park visitors and wildlife, and jeopardized the integrity of our most precious natural and cultural resources.
During his tenure with the current administration, Bernhardt has shown a clear pattern of anti-conservation decisions from willfully ignoring science-driven policy to aggressively pushing the administration’s “energy dominance” agenda and blatantly disregarding the fundamental duties of the National Park Service. Mr. Bernhardt has and will likely continue putting private interests above the protection and health of our public lands, wildlife and DOI personnel. These are not the actions the American people expect from their Interior secretary, the steward responsible for protecting our most treasured public lands and implementing laws and policies that keep national park air and water clean and healthy for visitors and local communities.
There so many serious issues facing our parks that must be addressed; a large maintenance backlog, threats to our resources from energy development, and declining employee morale including the message gleaned from the recent government shutdown, that NPS employees must continue to work harder for less. Mr. Bernhardt’s conflicts of interest, industry ties and questionable judgment, make him unfit to lead the Department of the Interior. NPCA cannot support Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination as he would continue to put our nation’s most inspirational and iconic places at risk.
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Former Deputy Vice President, Government Affairs