President Donald Trump recently announced that he will be nominating acting Secretary David Bernhardt as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. His nomination was welcomed by many who represent the agriculture industry.
Bernhardt currently serves as DOI acting secretary after Trump's first nominee, Ryan Zinke, stepped down in 2018. Bernhardt was nominated by Trump for the position of deputy secretary in April 2017, and the Senate confirmed him in July 2017.
Bernhardt is an avid hunter and angler and recently served on the Board of Game & Inland Fisheries for the commonwealth of Virginia. He has in-depth experience in legal matters concerning active regulations and rule-makings, with years of legal experience in both the government and the private sector. His expertise ranges from the Endangered Species Act to Outer-Continental leases, from mining royalties to Indian Affairs.
From 2001 and 2009, he held several positions within DOI, including serving as solicitor. In that capacity, he led the International Boundary Commission between the U.S. and Canada and was responsible, along with his Canadian counterpart, for maintaining the 5,525-mile international boundary between these two nations. Prior to that, he served as a deputy solicitor, deputy chief of staff and counselor to the secretary and as director of congressional and legislative affairs and counselor to the secretary.
American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall said the nomination is “great news” for American agriculture. “He understands the needs of America’s farmers and ranchers and is an excellent choice for interior secretary,” Duvall said in a statement.
“Bernhardt’s proven leadership while serving in the roles of deputy and acting secretary for the Interior Department has helped restore the multiple use of America’s public lands, through regulatory efforts to reform the outdated and ineffective Endangered Species Act, streamline the National Environmental Policy Act and promote outcome-based grazing across our nation’s rangelands," Duvall said. "Additionally, Bernhardt has been successful in leading a comprehensive reorganization of the Interior Department to improve the effectiveness and transparency of DOI bureaus.”
Duvall added that his group looks forward to working with Bernhardt as secretary to promote actions that reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, which have ravaged rural America and threatened infrastructure critical to farmers and ranchers. “We urge the Senate to confirm him soon,” Duvall said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), chair of the Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, said she plans to schedule a hearing and seek to move his nomination forward as expeditiously as possible.
“I strongly support David Bernhardt to serve as the next secretary of the interior. He already has helped the department accomplish a great deal for Alaska and the nation both as deputy secretary and as acting secretary, and he is more than capable of leading on a permanent basis,” she said in a statement.
The Congressional Western Caucus also voiced support for the nomination, with chairman Paul Gosar (R., Ariz.) noting, "Nobody knows the department and interior issues better than David Bernhardt. His intelligence, incredible work ethic and responsiveness are unmatched. A public servant for more than a decade, acting Secretary Bernhardt has worked diligently to increase hunting and fishing access, ensure clean water for future generations and empower local decision-making. David is a champion of the West, sportsmen and rural communities. He is a man of impeccable integrity. No one is more qualified. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to confirm him as soon as possible."
House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Rep. Rob Bishop (T., Utah) called the nomination a "brilliant move.”
A native of Rifle, Colo., Bernhardt earned a bachelor's in political science with a minor in business administration from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley in 1990. He graduated from the George Washington University National Law Center in 1994 and is admitted to various state and federal court bars. He and his wife, Gena Bernhardt, have two children and reside in Arlington, Va.