Critics of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke worry that Zinke’s recently announced resignation will leave his department governed by a more efficient and less-publicized technocrat.
Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt will lead the Department of the Interior (DOI) after Zinke departs at the end of the year. Bernhardt is known to be hard working and has years of experience navigating the DOI’s bureaucracy as a lobbyist and federal employee.
Democrats and critics worry that Bernhardt will be just as or more capable than Zinke at implementing President Donald Trump’s agenda without attracting as much media and watchdog scrutiny.
Bernhardt’s rise mirrors that of Andrew Wheeler’s at the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA). Wheeler began running the agency as acting administrator after Scott Pruitt resigned in July. Wheeler has continued to roll back federal environmental regulations while waiting for the Senate to confirm him as the EPA’s next head.
Bernhardt is in the running to be Trump’s next nominee to run the DOI.
“We may rue the day that we lost these giants of malfeasance and replaced them with much more low-key technocrats,” New York University public service professor Paul Light told The Washington Post, referring to Bernhardt and Wheeler replacing Zinke and Pruitt.
“Deputy Secretary Bernhardt has made it his mission to stifle climate science and silence the public so polluters can profit,” Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an emailed statement. “Unfortunately, even with Secretary Zinke out, the Interior Department remains disturbingly biased in favor of special interests over the health of American communities and the public lands that they love.”
GOP Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, GOP Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and GOP Utah Rep. Rob Bishop are also names reportedly at the top of Trump’s list to replace the outgoing Interior secretary.
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