Week ahead: Senators to hear from controversial deputy Interior pick

Week ahead: Senators to hear from controversial deputy Interior pick
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A Senate panel will hear from President Trump's pick for the No. 2 spot in the Interior Department next week.

David Bernhardt is scheduled to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. Trump nominated Bernhardt to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department late last month.

Bernhardt brings years of Interior experience to his confirmation process. He held several positions at Interior during the George W. Bush administration, including a stint as solicitor -- the agency's No. 3 spot -- from 2006 to 2009.

The Senate confirmed Bernhardt unanimously to that position in 2006, a fact Republicans are certain to raise during his confirmation fight this time around.

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But Bernhardt is still a controversial figure among some environmentalists.

He was a transition official for Trump and the chairman of the natural resources law practice at Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck.

Environmentalists worry he will support expanded fossil fuel development on public lands, arguing his private sector experience raises conflict of interest concerns.

His financial disclosure forms show more than $1.1 million in income from his law firm last year, and at least $80,000 in compensation from more than a dozen energy firms, though Bernhardt said he would recuse himself, for at least one year, from decisions involving former clients.

The Western Values Project in April sued the Interior Department seeking information about Bernhardt's tenure during the Bush administration. After he was nominated, Defenders of Wildlife hit him for his "strong ties to the oil, gas and big agricultural industries," and Energy Committee ranking member Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellUse tax reform to strengthen what’s working: The low-income housing tax credit Senate energy bill is misguided gift to Trump’s dirty fossil fuel agenda Help states solve their housing problems with the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act MORE (D-Wash.) raised concerns as well.

"I am gravely concerned about Mr. Bernhardt's record of working on behalf of corporations at the expense of the environment, and his history at the Department of the Interior during years plagued by ethical scandals," she said.

Bernhardt is likely to find strong support among Republicans, however. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke -- Bernhardt's would-be boss at the department -- has praised his "extensive experience" and "legal career" as "exactly what is needed to help streamline government and make the Interior and our public lands work for the American economy."

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the House returns from recess with a trio of Natural Resources Committee hearings.

A subcommittee will hear from Texas officials on Tuesday about the state's use of a program to convert old oil rigs into artificial reefs, and another panel will meet to discuss wildfire threats in National Forests.

On Wednesday, a third subcommittee will discuss legislation on hydropower industry transparency and water rights.

Expect to hear more about the White House's deliberations on the Paris climate deal next week.

The White House on Tuesday delayed another internal meeting on the climate deal, and officials said Trump would not make a decision on the U.S.'s involvement in the accord until after the Group of Seven meeting scheduled for May 26-27. Trump had previously said he would make an announcement on the pact before that summit.

The delayed timeline will give outside groups and lawmakers the chance to lobby Trump and his administration on the pact. This week, a host of conservative groups sent Trump a letter asking him to pull out of the deal, a message contrary to the one officials have heard from the business community.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday signed an Arctic Council proclamation that both calls for climate action and notes the Paris deal. But Trump officials have previously warned not to look for Paris hints in basic diplomatic moves, and Tillerson himself acknowledged a "review" of climate policies underway within the White House.

 

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