The nomination of David Bernhardt for the position of secretary of the interior represents a serious threat to Arizona and the public lands we treasure.
I am an Arizona resident, a 30-year veteran of the National Park Service, and a member of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, an organization with more than 1,600 members representing nearly 40,000 years of experience in protecting and managing America’s most precious and important natural and historic places.
Many of us have worked with Bernhardt in his various roles at the Department of the Interior (DOI) over the years, and have become familiar with his troubling policy focus, questionable management priorities and ethically dubious relationships beyond DOI.
His obvious devotion to the energy industry is resulting in a massive expansion of oil and gas development throughout the West, including parcels adjacent to national parks. He is championing a drastic rewrite of the Endangered Species Act that would result in new regulations that will threaten the long-term protection of listed species. If confirmed as secretary, his priorities will result in long-term and possibly permanent damage to the irreplaceable resources protected by our national parks and other public lands.
These concerns are compounded by Mr. Bernhardt’s ongoing and widely known conflicts of interests. He was recently named by the Center for American Progress as the “most conflicted” member of the president’s Cabinet in his role as acting secretary of the interior.
These conflicts of interest are particularly relevant to Arizonans. Bernhardt is a former lobbyist for the Rosemont Copper Co., an organization looking to build the third largest open-pit copper mine in the United States. Their target location? The Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest, just 35 miles southeast of Tucson.
The EPA has warned about devastating consequences to our air quality and clean water supply, which will certainly impact not only the health of our environment but a local economy that benefits from outdoor recreation enthusiasts drawn to the area’s natural beauty.
Bernhardt’s affiliation with mining companies and pro-mining interests also raises questions about whether he will stand up to efforts to expand uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. Past uranium mines in the area have led to contamination and had severe health impacts on Native American tribes who live nearby. If Bernhardt becomes secretary, it’s fair to be concerned about expanded uranium mining that could impact Grand Canyon National Park and public health.
Arizonans have indicated time and again that we value access to our outdoor spaces and believe strongly in their continued protection and preservation. Bernhardt, who has racked up a conspicuous record of anti-conservation and anti-park decisions during his time with the Trump administration, is not the secretary that Arizona needs.
We need a secretary of the interior who is dedicated to protecting our parks and public lands. We need an advocate, someone who will work tirelessly to ensure that Arizona’s outdoor spaces are preserved and protected for our use today and for the enjoyment of future generations. It is therefore essential that Arizona’s two senators, Krysten Sinema and Martha McSally, represent the best interests of our state and vote against Bernhardt’s nomination for secretary of the interior.