Interior Inspector General Urged to Investigate David Bernhardt

December 20, 2018

Interior Inspector General Urged to Investigate David Bernhardt

Deputy Secretary Likely to Succeed Ryan Zinke as Acting Interior Director

For Immediate Release

December 20, 2018

Washington, DC – Today, Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity urged the U.S. Department of the Interior inspector general to fully investigate Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s potential conflicts of interest as the former lobbyist is poised to take over as the department’s director.

In a letter to the inspector general, the groups asked for Bernhardt’s full calendar and record of communications from his time as Ryan Zinke’s deputy.

“David Bernhardt is too ethically compromised to be put in charge of America’s public lands. Any reasonable person should have serious reservations about putting a man with Bernhardt’s history in a position to destroy 500 million acres of public lands,” said Greenpeace USA Climate Director Janet Redman. “From offshore drilling to Bears Ears to the Endangered Species Act, there are basically zero Interior Department issues that don’t raise questions about Bernhardt’s ability to act objectively. If federal ethics standards still allow a former oil and gas lobbyist to manage public lands and waters, then what are they good for?”  

Read the full letter here:

“David Bernhardt is the most dangerous man in America for endangered species and public lands,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “At the behest of fossil fuel, mining and other industries, Bernhardt has been dismantling basic protections for lands that belong to all of us and the vulnerable species, like the sage grouse, that depend on them.”

The letter asks the inspector general’s office for the following:

  • A complete list of people and groups Bernhardt has met or communicated with in person or via email, letter, phone call or text since his 2017 confirmation. Those include the participants in each external meeting listed on his public calendar and meetings that were excluded from his public calendar with agendas to indicate what was discussed.
  • Investigations by the Interior department’s ethics office into a number of potential conflicts detailed in the letter, including methane leak rules, the Endangered Species Act, western sage grouse and the national monuments review.
  • A continuation of Bernhardt’s recusal from matters involving his former clients beyond the one-year time period and, going forward, an additional recusal from any matters where a reasonable person might consider his actions to benefit his former clients.

Bernhardt is likely to step in as acting Interior secretary when Zinke leaves at the end of the year. Bernhardt was confirmed by the Senate in 2017 as deputy secretary with a vote mostly split along party lines with, 53-43.

The last confirmation for a deputy secretary at the Interior Department was unanimous in the Senate. Greenpeace supporters made more than 3,000 calls asking senators to vote no on Bernhardt’s confirmation.

Before his confirmation at the Interior department, Bernhardt was a partner in the firm Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, and Schreck, LLP, where he ran the natural resources practice. Because he started and chaired the Natural Resources Department, most or all of BHFS’s energy work was led by Bernhardt.  

His former clients include companies and trade associations that will be impacted directly by Interior department decisions involving oil, gas and coal leasing, the Antiquities Act and the Endangered Species Act.



Cassady Craighill, Greenpeace, [email protected], 828-817-3328

Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, [email protected], (503) 484-7495

Additional Resources:

2018 Letter to Interior Department Inspector General

2017 Greenpeace Memo Detailing David Bernhardt’s Conflicts of Interest

Full 2017 Letter from Greenpeace to Interior Ethics Office Asking for Recusals

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