Many Coloradans are rallying around President Trump’s nomination of Rifle native David Bernhardt to be the next secretary of interior. However, a closer look at Mr. Bernhardt’s record shows that he may be out of touch with the basic land values of most Colorado citizens.
Mr. Bernhardt has a long history of being a lobbyist, and spokesperson, for the oil and gas industry. At first glance, this is not necessarily bad. After all, almost every adult in Colorado drives a gasoline-powered car, and many of us heat our homes from natural gas, or from gas-powered power plants.
However, the multiple uses of our land include activities such as hunting, fishing, backpacking, off-road travel on legally open trails, and other forms of outdoor recreation. Serious questions have been raised regarding Mr. Bernhardt’s ability to make multiple use his primary focus if confirmed as interior secretary.
As examples, Mr. Bernhardt has been a primary mover for limiting the amount of time that Colorado citizens have for commenting on proposals to drill on our public lands by energy companies. Mr. Bernhardt was a leader in attempts to roll back common-sense regulations that required energy companies to capture methane waste gas instead of flaring it off at the wellhead. By such action, Mr. Bernhardt deprived the taxpayers of royalties from such captured gas and damaged the methane-waste capture industry.
Mr. Bernhardt has been an opponent of the emerging outdoor recreation economy in the West by leading the way in downsizing the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah. This action was taken despite opposition from a majority of Utah citizens. The prime beneficiaries of the downsizing have been energy and mining companies, some of them foreign owned.
The recent Conservation in the West poll conducted by Colorado College shows that citizens of Colorado and other western states, by large margins, value our public lands for their clean air, clean water and wildlife habitat, over more and continual drilling. The margin in Colorado is two to one. Will Mr. Bernhardt place a significant emphasis on what the large majority of Coloradans want for our public lands, or will he place the priorities of his energy company clients first?
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner will be a key player in the nomination process. Sen. Gardner has done some good things for our public lands, especially his work on re-authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In considering Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination, will Sen. Gardner be a conservation-minded, good government, conservative? Or will he march in lockstep with Mr. Bernhardt and his energy company cronies?
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