Recently Colorado Politics reporter Joey Bunch wrote in praise of our new Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt in “A Coloradan over Interior should be a good thing.” In theory, I agree, but the reality is different. I am not sure it would be a good thing.

Bunch leaves out details about why Bernhardt is absolutely not the right person to be in charge of managing our nation’s public lands and natural resources. It’s great that Bernhardt grew up in Colorado, and according to Bunch, he’s a nice guy with a relentless work ethic. Those are good qualities. But what about Bernhardt’s intentions to unravel public health, wildlife and environmental protections in favor of energy dominance? Recently, Colorado rolled out a bold plan for oil and gas reform, where public health and safety must now be considered before energy extraction. Bernhardt’s vision is out of synch with what Coloradans want.

What Coloradans want is accurately revealed in the well-regarded Colorado College Conservation in the West poll for 2019: nearly three-quarters of Colorado voters agree that the ability to be near and enjoy national forests, parks and other public lands is a significant reason they live in the West. Nearly two-thirds want Congress to protect sources of clean water, air quality and wildlife habitat while providing opportunities to visit and recreate on our national public lands. Less than 25% want Congress to produce more domestic energy by maximizing the amount of national public lands available for oil and gas drilling and mining.

David Bernhardt was a lobbyist for fossil fuel companies and his current drive to expand drilling and strip wildlife protections could not be further away from Colorado values. As deputy and acting secretary of interior, Bernhardt took aim at weakening the Endangered Species Act by revising plans for the imperiled sage grouse across 11 western states. He wants to undo science-based protections crafted over nearly a decade by ranchers, business owners, sportsmen, energy industry officials, outdoor recreation leaders, veterans, conservationists, and their federal and state partners. The amendments to the agreement have been requested by the oil and gas industry and other special interests. In addition, Bernhardt favors offering oil and gas leases next to national parks, national monuments and national historical sites. He also played an important role in the reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

Bunch accuses Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of playing party politics, because he initially voted for Bernhardt as deputy secretary but did not support him to be interior’s chief. That’s an incredible assertion about a leader who has conspicuously worked across the aisle with Republican senators to bring about effective environmental and conservation legislation for the benefit of Coloradans and all Americans.

Could it simply be that Bennet is committed to protecting public lands and wild places and recognized the importance Coloradans place on our heritage and vital outdoor recreation economy? Could it be that after seeing Bernhardt’s intentions during the past two years to revoke methane standards, drill in the Arctic and limit local input into the oil and gas leasing process in Colorado, he can no longer give Bernhardt the benefit of the doubt?

It appears that Bennet is not the only one in opposition to the Bernhardt-led Trump drive for energy first. A U.S. District Court judge halted drilling on 300,000 acres of public land in Wyoming, ruling that the government failed to consider adequately the impact on global warming, and in March another federal judge blocked the president’s move to open up drilling in the Arctic and the Atlantic, prompting the administration to put their offshore drilling plans on hold.

As Bunch points out, it’s true that Bernhardt could play a key role in relocating BLM’s headquarters to Grand Junction and that would be nice for Colorado. But barely in office, the Interior Department is launching an ethics investigation of Bernhardt and his ties to the oil and gas industry over potential conflicts of interest, again pointing up that Bernhardt seems out of step with mainstream Colorado outdoor values.

Yes, it would be nice if David Bernhardt could make Colorado proud, but for all of the above reasons the odds are that he won’t.

Jeni Arndt

Colorado State Representative, District 53

Fort Collins

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