The architect behind the Trump administration’s recent drastic changes to America’s bedrock environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is former mega-lobbyist for extractive corporations turned-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, new research from Western Values Project shows. Sec. Bernhardt has long-pushed for NEPA rollbacks, and the likely reason for these efforts are that several of his former lobbying clients, including the powerful Westlands Water District, stand to benefit.
“This certainly isn’t the first, and definitely won’t be the last, time that Interior Secretary Bernhardt has stacked the deck against the American people and our public lands in favor of his former clients and special interests allies. Gutting America’s longstanding and widely-supported environmental protection law is a disgrace, providing even further proof that Bernhardt has turned Interior into his own personal lobbying shop at the expense of our outdoor heritage,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project. “If Bernhardt and the Trump administration are successful in gutting this law, the NEPA acronym would more aptly stand for No Environmental Protections Anymore.”
Analysis by Western Values Project — an Accountable.US project based in Montana, defending America’s public lands — identified at least 14 former Bernhardt or BHFS clients that could see benefits under the proposed NEPA revisions. Review the list here.
Ultimately, gutting NEPA will make the environmental review easier for corporations and special interests while limiting opportunities for the public and impacted communities to voice concerns. Though the scope and subject of their projects vary, several of Sec. Bernhardt’s former clients and clients at his former lobby shop, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck (BHFS), still have pending projects that could reap rewards from a weakened review process.
Perhaps most notably, the Westlands Water District is pursuing a plan to add 18 feet to the Shasta Dam and a permanent water contract that could skirt NEPA reviews. Sec. Bernhardt already warned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare for a new environmental review for the dam proposal. Westlands previously called Sec. Bernhardt the “quarterback” of its Interior “Dream Team.”
Sec. Bernhardt has a strong record of pushing for reduced environmental protections in order to appease his former lobbying clients. Though he was previously recused from working on “particular matters” that involved these same former clients, his extensive conflicts of interest and the lack of accountability by the Trump administration made the recusal order not worth the paper it was printed on.
Sec. Bernhardt has long rallied for revisions that would make skirting important environmental reviews easier, seemingly trying to negate or hide any potential industry development impacts on America’s public lands. Previously, he went so far as to issue a memorandum that limits NEPA practices, setting arbitrary time and page limits on critically important environmental analysis and reviews. The restrictions were intended to fast-track oil and gas development on public lands and mirrors the recent rollbacks from the Trump administration.
Analysis of Sec. Bernhardt’s publicly released calendars show that he and acting second-in-command Kate MacGregor have held no less than a dozen meetings concerning NEPA and its potential revision. Separately, Sec. Bernhardt also eliminated at least four environmental protection policies and directives that wiped away guidance on how Interior employees should minimize the environmental impact of development on public lands and waters.
Supporting materials and further research can be downloaded here.