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Days Into New Job, Interior Chief Faces Ethics Inquiry

Watchdog opens investigation into David Bernhardt after Democrats complain
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2019 8:57 AM CDT
David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist, speaks before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee at his confirmation hearing to head the Interior Department.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(Newser) – Less than one week into his new job, the Interior Department chief is facing an internal ethics investigation. The department's inspector general announced the inquiry into David Bernhardt after receiving complaints from eight Democratic senators as well as environmental groups, reports the Washington Post. Bernhardt is a former gas and oil lobbyist who had been serving as deputy secretary of the department until his recent promotion. Critics say he's been putting policies into place that benefit his old clients, not the 500 million acres of public land, plus coastal waters, under the department's supervision, per the New York Times. A department spokesman says all this has been thoroughly vetted already, and Bernhardt came out clean.

Inspector General Mary L. Kendall says her office launched the investigation after receiving letters "from a wide assortment of complainants alleging various conflicts of interest and other violations" by Bernhardt. "We are continuing to gather pertinent information about the complaints and have opened an investigation to address them." Under the Trump administration's "energy dominance" philosophy, the department has opened up more land for gas drilling, rolled back protections for endangered species, and eased up on rules governing oil-production platforms. (Bernhardt replaces Ryan Zinke as secretary, who left under a cloud of criticism that he characterized as "vicious and politically motivated attacks.")

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