At Confirmation Hearing, will Gardner Stand Up for Colorado’s Public Lands?

This Thursday, Senator Cory Gardner’s powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold hearings on former big-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt’s nomination to lead the Department of Interior.

Western Values Project called on Gardner to stand up for Colorado and Westerners and hold Bernhardt accountable for his most controversial policy decisions while serving as Deputy Secretary of the Interior for the last two years.

“To date, Senator Gardner has acted more like a lapdog for the Trump Administration and their anti-public lands agenda than an advocate for what’s best for Colorado,” said Western Values Project Deputy Director Jayson O’Neill. “It’s time for Senator Gardner to do his job and hold Bernhardt accountable, and that starts with asking him the tough questions.”

A recent poll released by Western Values Project shows how widely unpopular the Department of Interior’s agenda under Bernhardt is in Colorado. By wide margins, Coloradans disapprove of weakening protections for threatened species and changes to the Endangered Species Act (71% disapprove, 59% strongly), shrinking national monument protections for industrial oil and gas and mining development (69% disapprove, 58% strongly), and expediting approval and permitting of oil and gas drilling in previously protected wildlife habitat (67% disapprove, 55% strongly).

Below please find key questions Senator Gardner should ask Bernhardt about his decisions that affect the lives and access to public lands of millions of Colorado residents:

Listening to Local Communities

Background: BLM is exploring new developments in at least five counties across Colorado (La Plata, Gunnison (Montrose Daily Press, 10/10/17), San Miguel, Delta (Montrose Daily Press, 12/16/17), and Fremont)—in some cases against the wishes of residents: Residents of La Plata County Colorado say the BLM neglected to notify them of a possible oil and gas development next to their homes. San Miguel County sued the BLM over oil and gas leases they had granted in the county, arguing that the agency failed to properly consider the impacts of drilling activity.

Question: BLM has explored new oil, gas, and mining developments in Colorado, but has failed to work with local communities under your leadership. Will you commit to working with communities and gaining their support before using our public lands for private gain?

Gutting Sage Grouse Protections, Damaging Colorado

Background: Last year, under Bernhardt’s directive, the BLM proposed changes to a bipartisan sage-grouse conservation plan, opening up 224,200 acres of Colorado land to oil and gas leasing. The proposal also amended the process for making future changes to habitat boundaries, which could impact 1.7 million acres of BLM-managed sage-grouse habitat in northwest Colorado. The Colorado measure would eliminate a provision in the current plan that bars leasing within a mile of leks, the breeding grounds where male greater sage-grouse strut in an attempt to win over potential mating partners. Bernhardt’s former lobbying clients in the oil and extraction industries stand to benefit from his decisions.

Question: What representatives of the oil and gas industry have contacted you regarding this issue? Did you have any contacts with your former clients on sage-grouse or other oil and gas issues? Did other departmental personnel communicate or meet with any of your prior oil and gas clients on this matter?

Failing to Address Colorado National Parks Maintenance Backlog

Background: As Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt has overseen a national parks maintenance backlog that includes roughly $84 million in deferred repairs at Rocky Mountain National Park and roughly $70 million in deferred repairs needed at Mesa Verde National Park. Federal parks in Colorado had more than $238 million in deferred repairs at the end of 2017, the 14th largest price tag in the country.

Question: Why has the Administration failed to address the national park maintenance backlog here in Colorado and why has the President’s budget has yet again failed to fund these important projects? What will you do to ensure that Colorado’s national parks have the resources they need?

Special Access Special Interests and Conflicts of Interest

Background: Recent investigative reporting detailed 15 times your former clients received favorable decisions by the Department, including loosening restrictions on sage-grouse protection at the request of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.  

Of the 27 former clients and employers with potential conflicts of interest that disclosed on Bernhardt’s ethics forms, lobbying disclosure data revealed that 20 have actively lobbied the Department of the Interior since the beginning of 2017. This appears to be the most conflicts of interest of any of President Trump’s cabinet-level nominees by a significant amount.

Question: Will you commit to sharing all of the documents related to your recusals and any ethics waivers provided?  Will you also commit to providing information on who you are meeting with, so the American taxpayers are aware of who is meeting with Department officials tasked with managing all of our public lands?

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