Energy & Environment

Trump pick for Interior heads toward Senate confirmation

Greg Nash

President Trump’s nominee to take over as head of the Interior Department cleared his first hurdle Thursday, winning approval from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a 14-6 vote.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) joined the panel’s Republicans in backing David Bernhardt’s nomination.

{mosads}“He’s clearly qualified and has the experience to serve as secretary,” Manchin said at the vote. “He knows the Interior inside and out, that may be a blessing to some and may be a concern to others. Based on the assurances he has given, I’m prepared to vote on him this morning.”

Bernhardt needs support from only a majority of senators in a floor vote to be confirmed as Interior’s next secretary.

Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) called Bernhardt “well qualified” for the position.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), however, argued Bernhardt’s ties to energy interests would make him no better than his predecessor, Ryan Zinke, who left the department amid a series of controversies.

“Every single senator should be interested in restoring honor and integrity to the office of the Interior secretary. Unfortunately, the Bernhardt nomination … doesn’t even come close,” Wyden said.

During last week’s confirmation hearing for Bernhardt, Wyden criticized what he called the former energy lobbyist’s long list of conflicts of interest. Bernhardt carries with him a card listing the names of all companies that would pose a conflict to his government work.

“I think you are so conflicted. I think that even if you are confirmed you will have to disqualify yourself from so many matters I don’t know how you will spend your day,” Wyden said last week.

As Interior chief, Bernhardt would have to recuse himself from meetings with those companies if they have business before the agency.

Wyden also raised concerns at the confirmation hearing about a report that Bernhardt intervened as deputy secretary in the release of a Fish and Wildlife Service report that found two pesticides were likely deadly to several endangered species.

Bernhardt last week told senators he had made the decision to not release the findings after consulting with lawyers.

The committee also voted on the nomination of Susan Combs to serve as assistant secretary of the Interior in the Office of Policy, Management and Budget. She was previously appointed by Trump to serve as acting assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.

Wyden and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) were the only two senators to vote against her nomination proceeding to the Senate floor.

Combs has angered some environmentalists with her remarks concerning Endangered Species Act protections, which she once likened to “incoming Scud missiles.”

Updated at 12:27 p.m.

Tags Angus King Donald Trump Interior Joe Manchin Lisa Murkowski Mazie Hirono Ron Wyden Ryan Zinke

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