Interior Secretary Bernhardt

David Bernhardt speaks before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee at his confirmation hearing to head the Interior Department, on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 28, 2019.  J. Scott Applewhite / AP

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was to be the main attraction Friday night at a fundraiser for the Colorado Republican Party in Westminster.

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, the Colorado GOP chairman, described Bernhardt as a "special guest" at the "grassroots reception" in an invitation to the fundraiser. Tickets to the fundraiser are $30.

"The Honorable David Bernhardt is a special guest for this event," the invitation reads. "His participation is not a solicitation of funds."

A native of the Western Slope town of Rifle, Bernardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to run the Interior Department in April. Bernhardt previously served as the department's deputy secretary under Ryan Zinke and as acting secretary after Zinke resigned in December amid ethics scandals.

During his tenure at Interior, Bernhardt has spearheaded a plan first proposed by Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner to move the Bureau of Land Management headquarters out of Washington, D.C., closer to the millions of acres it manages in Western states.

In July, Gardner announced that BLM planned to relocate its headquarters to Grand Junction, which is expected to house 27 employees. The remainder will be scattered across the West, including some in Lakewood.

Friday, BLM said it had signed a lease agreement for headquarters office space in Grand Junction.

Even though Gardner won't be attending Friday's fundraiser, Colorado Democrats and environmental groups took the occasion to criticize the lawmaker, who is seeking a second term in 2020.

“Senator Gardner has supported President Trump’s toxic environmental agenda every step of the way, and now the oil lobbyist who Trump and Gardner put in charge of our public lands is trying to buy another six years of Gardner’s reliable rubber-stamp," said Alyssa Roberts, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Democratic Party, in a statement. "Coloradans want a senator who will actually fight to protect our public lands, not a special-interest lackey who supports efforts to sell them out to corporate polluters.”

Jayson O’Neill, deputy director of Western Values Project, a Montana-based conservation group, had this to say: “We would all be better off if David Bernhardt used his position to defend our public lands instead of trying to reward his old lobbyist friends, special interests and political pals like Cory Gardner. But while Bernhardt’s out West, we encourage him to visit some of the vital public lands and parks projects that he proposed zeroing out in Interior’s most recent budget. Maybe then Bernhardt will start to understand how he and his allies are hurting our Western way of life.”

Bernhardt is expected to appear as an unannounced guest this weekend in Grand Junction at the fall meeting of Club 20, an organization that boosts the interests of Colorado's Western Slope. 

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