The State of the Union Address wasn’t the only thing President Trump managed to finally accomplish this week. On Monday David Bernhardt, who happens to be a Colorado native, was officially announced as the new nominee for Secretary of the Interior.
Bernhardt’s selection for the post is remarkable largely for how unremarkable it is. In an administration long and often criticized for its surplus of unorthodox cabinet figures, this nomination continues a welcome trend of falling back on more traditional, experienced, establishment picks, such as William Barr for Attorney General. Bernhardt follows in this new pattern, bringing ample and appropriate experience to the portfolio.
So needless to say, the environmental fanatics are losing their heads over the nomination. The executive director of something called the Western Values Project was quoted in these pages citing Mr. Bernhardt’s experience as making him “simply too conflicted to be our next Interior Secretary” and imploring the Senate to reject him.
This fellow is not alone. Several prominent Democrats came out within hours of the announcement to explain how the very wealth of experience in the matters over which Bernhardt would preside, and which so magnificently qualify him for the post, are in fact reasons enough to deny it to him.
Paradoxically, such noble concerns over conflicts of interest were never leveled against Bruce Babbitt, Bill Clinton’s Interior Secretary nominated after eight years heading up the League of Conservation Voters, or Sally Jewell, President Obama’s pick to replace Ken Salazar, who rode years of corporate environmental activism into the Interior Department.
Beyond Mr. Bernhardt’s impressive resume stands the simple fact that he hails not just from Colorado, but from Rifle, Colorado, located in the heart of the Western Slope, where upwards of 75 percent of land is under federal government ownership and control. This bodes well not only for the continuation of realistic policies dealing with energy development and endangered species management on federal land, but for more parochial concerns such as the potential relocation of the Bureau of Land Management to Colorado where it may be, at long last, within a day’s journey to the lands it proposes to manage.
Mr. Bernhardt’s upcoming confirmation hearings will (probably? We hope?) not descend to the level of contention witnessed during the Kavanaugh hearings, but he will nonetheless be confronted with jeremiads against economic development on lands owned by the federal government for the express purpose of maximizing their value to the American public. He will need to ably contend with tendentious references assaulting his position, eminently defensible, that oil and gas drilling can be done without injury to modern ecological sensibilities; and, moreover, that it must be done.
Our society’s obligation to oil and gas, utopian daydreams to the contrary, remains pervasive, in ways many of which are so obvious they escape immediate realization. Whether we like it or not, control of useful sources of energy is the practical barometer by which any nation’s wealth and strength is measured. On Tuesday night the president, evoking a position long held by dovish appeasement-minded Democrats and libertine Ron Paul types, spoke of his disdain for “foolish foreign wars,” many of which have been engaged to protect the civilized world’s energy supply from being monopolized by nations with antagonistic motives. The technology may (probably will) exist someday to enable renewables to provide more than about 20 percent of our total energy needs without covering every square inch of available earth surface with windmills and solar panels, but that day is not yet on the horizon. And our spastic anti-nuclear bias will ensure the dominance of oil and natural gas for the foreseeable future.
America, therefore, requires an interior secretary with the requisite knowledge and experience to prudently manage the harvest of that indispensable resource from lands owned by the U.S., and David Bernhardt possesses that experience and capability. Sen. Cory Gardner, to this credit, has already publicly acknowledged this and indicated he will vote to confirm him, both in his committee and on the Senate floor. It will be difficult, or ought to be, for Sen. Michael Bennet to do otherwise when it comes to the full Senate. But he will face pressure to oppose the nomination from those who ideologize nature, and whose allegiance is to the blessed virginity of a wilderness they, unlike Bernhardt, have most likely never seen nor will ever set foot in.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.