Corruption Questions Unanswered after Secretary Bernhardt Visits Montana

Interior Secretary Travels West, Appears at Staged Event Touting Talking Points While Leaving Scandals Unaddressed

When Interior Secretary David Bernhardt visited Choteau, Montana, this past Saturday, he outright ignored a number of scandals and critical public lands management questions swirling around Interior, including recent reporting highlighting his work to benefit a former lobbying client — a matter currently under investigation for potentially violating ethics regulations. Secretary Bernhardt also failed to address a number of issues affecting Montana, like the highly-disputed Lewistown Resource Management Plan. 

“Secretary Bernhardt traveled out West just to appear at a canned event, dodging important questions about the scandals plaguing himself and his agency, as well as questions about the Trump administration’s mismanagement of our waterways, public lands and wildlife. He ignored his conflicted record, ongoing investigations, historic reductions in public land protections, and lack of funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project. “Montanans see right through this political dog-and-pony show and know the Trump administration has turned its back on protecting Montana’s public lands and outdoor heritage.”

“Montanans and public land users across the West won’t be fooled by Bernhardt’s talking points. We wanted straight talk and straight answers but were once again left out to dry. When it comes to corruption and hiding from public concern, Secretary Bernhardt is unmatched,” O’Neill concluded.

Unaddressed concerns: 

Is Secretary Bernhardt giving preferential treatment to his former lobbying clients like the Westlands Water District in violation of his ethics pledge? 

Recent reporting from the New York Times highlighted Secretary Bernhardt’s work within Interior that was seemingly intended to benefit his former client, the Westlands Water District, which is part of a multi-faceted investigation into Bernhardt’s potential violation of ethics regulations. Westlands has long-pushed for an expansion of the Shasta Dam, despite potential harm to several endangered species. Bernhardt’s Interior and Westlands are partnering to move this project forward over fierce objections. 

Will Secretary Bernhardt address the growing concern over the giveaway to oil and gas special interests in the Bureau of Land Management’s Lewistown Resource Management Plan? 

Meanwhile, Interior’s Bureau of Land Management released its Lewistown Resource Management Plan in June, which has since received widespread backlash because it outlines efforts that would roll back conservation efforts and push development on Montana’s scenic landscapes. Bernhardt left concerns unaddressed on his trip to Montana. 

Is Secretary Bernhardt supportive of re-delegating ‘acting’ authority to political hires who have not faced a Senate confirmation process in violation of the Appointments Clause, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution? 

Secretary Bernhardt also failed to address the recently scrutinizedacting” authority status used by the Trump administration to avoid the Senate’s ‘advice and consent’ constitutionally required confirmation process, including the re-delegation of authority to anti-public lands zealot Willam Pendley as acting BLM director. Pendley has yet to answer critical public lands questions submitted by Montana’s Senior Senator Jon Tester two months ago. Interior is also facing a number of scandals including potential violations of public records laws for political meddling under the Freedom of Information Act, which is also under investigation by Interior’s internal watchdog. 

How can Secretary Bernhardt claim to support public lands while also supporting a budget that tried to gut a critical and popular public lands funding program impacting Montana’s public lands and parks? 

There was no comment by Secretary Bernhardt or Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte on the Trump administration’s proposed budget that all-but-zeroed out the critical Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has invested more than $619.7 million in Montana alone for parks, public access, and recreation areas projects. 

Will Secretary Bernhardt continue to support the mismanagement and historic public lands reductions under the Trump administration? 

Under the Trump administration and through Secretary Bernhardt’s leadership, America’s public lands have faced historic reductions to their borders and their protections. President Trump has continued to push for the illegal reduction of two Utah national monuments. Sage grouse habitat has been continually threatened while national parks funding has been diverted to hide political missteps — all while the administration makes empty attempts at appeasing the West.

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