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In naming veteran lobbyist David Bernhardt as his new Interior secretary, President Trump didn’t so much “drain the swamp” as elevate one of its big­gest gators to a position of extraordinary power. The newest member of Trump’s cabinet is so thoroughly entangled with the industries his department oversees that he has been known to carry a card in his wallet to remind him of all his conflicts of interest. Indeed, an independent analysis revealed Bernhardt to be the member of Trump’s cab­inet with the most conflicts of in­­terest relative to his job re­­spon­sibilities. During two decades of spin­ning through the

revolving door be­­tween the pub­ lic and private sec­tors, Bern­hardt amassed a rogues’ gallery of lobbying clients, some of the country’s most destructive polluters. No surprise, then, that Bern­ hardt’s tenure at the Interior De­­part­ment, where he served as deputy to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (before Zinke was forced to resign for his own spate of ethical lapses), has already been a bonanza for Bernhardt’s former clients, particularly those in the oil and gas in­­dus­tries. Under Bern­hardt’s watch, the In­­terior De­­part­­ment has launched one of the biggest-ever giveaways of public land for drilling—some

17 million acres so far. It plans to open more, possibly including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and has sought to open virtually all U.S. coastal waters to offshore drilling. Just recently, Bernhardt over­­saw the plan to drop vital protec­tions for the endangered sage grouse from roughly nine million acres of habitat across the West, part of his much broader war on endangered species protections that is making it easier for fossil fuel companies to exploit critical habitat. For his efforts to roll back protections for sage grouse habitat, Bernhardt received a personal thankyou letter from the Independent Petroleum Asso­ciation of America, a former client. Unlike his predecessor Zinke, who infamously rode a horse to his first day of work, Bernhardt is more low-key, which may make him more of a threat. “Bernhardt is a walking conflict of interest, and he knows how to get things done in Washington,” says Bobby McEnaney of NRDC’s Western Renewable Energy Project. “But we’re challenging him at every turn—rallying public opposition to his pro-polluter agenda and hold­ing him accountable in court to the laws that safeguard our natural heritage for all future generations.”

Trump Bypasses Courts, Tries to Revive KXL Joshua Axelrod, Canada Project, International Program

Once again showing his disdain for the rule of law, President Trump has launched another attempt to green-light the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline despite a court order blocking its construction. Last August, the court ruled in NRDC’s favor, saying that Trump’s State Department had failed to analyze a proposed new route through Nebraska when it granted a cross-border permit for the pipeline. A few months later, the court invalidated other parts of the department’s­environmental review, citing failures to adequately address climate change, oil spills and impacts to cultural resources. The court ordered a halt to all construction, and an appeals court upheld that decision.

In March, Trump tried to bypass the courts by issuing a presidential memorandum purporting to revoke the existing cross-border permit and reissue it directly. He followed that in April with an executive order that puts in place a closedto-the-public, fast-track process for cross-border infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. Will Trump’s end run around the courts work? No. Acting like a dictator is not typically viewed as honoring the bounds placed on presidential power by the U.S. Constitution. The president cannot unilaterally invalidate court orders such as the injunction barring construction­of Keystone XL. Ironically, Trump’s attempt to speed up the pipeline has turned a complex reg-

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ulatory battle into a legal labyrinth that will produce even more litigation and new delays. One telling fact: the State Department says it is continuing with the environmental review that Trump is trying to circumvent. This disclosure doesn’t suggest there’s much faith in the legality of Trump’s new permit. Time’s a-ticking for TransCanada and the tar sands industry. The reality of climate change is hastening the end of our reliance on fossil fuels, and projects like Keystone XL have no place in a world trying to wean itself from an unhealthy addiction to oil. Meanwhile, American democracy has no place for the actions of a president who believes he can step over the courts when he doesn’t like the decisions they render.

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Trump’s New Interior Secretary Has Deep Ties to Dirty Industries

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Nature's Voice Summer 2019  

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