Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee
On March 16 Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said he is seriously concerned about the direction of the Department of the Interior (DOI) following Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s testimony the day before, his first before the Committee since taking the top post. Bernhardt revealed his total lack of concern about climate change during his appearance, telling the Committee he has “not lost any sleep” over the issue despite recent news that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are the highest recorded in human history.
Bernhardt’s statements and responses to questions, Grijalva said, indicated an alarming lack of seriousness about climate change, an inability to explain his deep industry ties and conflicts of interest, and an unwillingness to commit to transparency on key issues, including the ongoing Department of the Interior reorganization and the lack of Department of the Interior responsiveness to House Democratic requests for documents and information.
“The secretary’s performance yesterday told me that he sees legitimate congressional requests for information as a nuisance he can ignore, which seems to be how this entire administration operates,” Grijalva said today. “Laughing off climate change as a waste of everyone’s time and energy tells me he’s too far in industry’s pocket to be trusted with our public lands. He shrugged off pointed questions about his industry favoritism, he wouldn’t explain why he won’t give us documents we ask for, and he wouldn’t answer simple questions about the Department of the Interior reorganization. I’m glad he appeared yesterday as part of doing his job – I just wish he would have come with substantive answers instead of empty, well-rehearsed talking points.”
You can see video highlights of Bernhardt’s testimony and his exchanges with Democratic lawmakers below.
Secretary Bernhardt’s Attitude to Congressional Inquiries
Chair Grijalva asks Secretary Bernhardt to address “the elephant in the room” – President Trump’s refusal to cooperate with legitimate Democratic inquiries and requests for information – and notes that of 17 document requests since Bernhardt became secretary, the Committee has only received partial responses to two requests:
Representative Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) asks Secretary Bernhardt to quantify his level of concern about climate change on a scale from 1 to 10 and Bernhardt responds, “I haven’t lost any sleep over it”:
Legal Requirements for Department of the Interior to Act on Climate Change
Representative Mike Levin (D-Calif.) points Sec. Bernhardt to four laws that guide much of the Department of the Interior’s mission, each of which requires the department and its lead officers to leave resources intact for future generations, and asks him to explain how he could meet these directives while ignoring climate change:
Secretary Bernhardt’s Lack of Transparency
Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) asks Sec. Bernhardt why Department of the Interior’s supposedly rigorous process for reviewing documents released in response to Democratic inquiries produces fully redacted pages, reams of computer code and other visual “gibberish” – and Secretary Bernhardt dismisses it by saying he’s spent years in civil litigation “and so I’ve seen a lot of documents that look like this” without promising any new level of transparency:
Lack of Tribal Consultation on Department of the Interior Reorganization
Representative Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) asks Secretary Bernhardt to explain his role in curbing President Trump’s anti-tribal racism – and why Bernhardt and his staff haven’t meaningfully consulted with Native American tribes as part of the ongoing reorganization of Department of the Interior’s workforce and infrastructure:
Secretary Bernhardt’s Conflicts of Interest
Representative Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) asks Secretary Bernhardt to point to a time at which an industry asked Department of the Interior for something and Bernhardt said no – and gets no specific example in response:
Land and Water Conservation Fund
Representative TJ Cox (D-Calif.) asks Secretary Bernhardt why the Trump administration’s budget proposal cuts funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund – one of the country’s most popular conservation programs, which conserves land at no cost to taxpayers – by 95 percent, and Secretary Bernhardt says that Congress has one set of priorities and the president has another:
Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) asks Secretary Bernhardt to explain his relationship with pesticide manufacturers and why he intervened to block the release of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report finding significant pesticide risks to endangered species:
Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) describes Trump administration pressure against Dr. Maria Caffrey, a climate researcher who prepared a report for the National Park Service on sea level rise in national parks. She was pressured to remove mentions of human contributions to climate change:
President Trump’s Anti-Tribal Rhetoric
Representative Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) asks Secretary Bernhardt who President Trump consulted with before attacking tribal land rights in a racist tweet, and how much influence a conservative political donor had over the president’s view of a rival tribal casino construction project:
Medicaid in U.S. Territories
Representative Gregorio Sablan (D-CNMI) asks Secretary Bernhardt about an impending lack of Medicaid funding in U.S. territories, which fall under Department of the Interior’s jurisdiction, and Bernhardt says he’s not very familiar with the issue: