Colorado native joins Montana’s Zinke at top of Interior Department

The U.S. Senate confirmed David Bernhardt as second in command at the Interior Department on Monday, an appointment that places the Colorado native alongside Ryan Zinke of Montana in managing the agency.

While Democrats panned Bernhardt as “a walking conflict of interests,” Republicans praised the appointment, including Montana’s Sen. Steve Daines.

“Managing the Department of the Interior is a complex balancing act,” Daines said. “We need someone who knows how to balance competing interests and we need someone who understands the importance of our public lands.”

Sen. Jon Tester voted against Bernhardt’s confirmation.

Bernhardt is a Colorado native from the town of Rifle, a place Bernhardt described as “the self-proclaimed ‘Oil Shale Capital of the World.’”

According to the Denver Post, Rifle “suffered a dramatic economic downturn during the mid-1980s energy bust,” which negatively affected Bernhardt and his family. He remains committed to energy development.

Bernhardt was confirmed on a 53-43 vote, largely along party lines.

“(Bernhardt) is a Westerner, from Rifle, Colorado, and the importance of our public lands and wildlife flows through his veins like a lot of us from out West,” Daines said. “I have confidence that he will be a dedicated servant to our Western way of life where we love to hunt, fish, hike on our public lands.”

Daines said that Western mentality is needed in the Interior Department, which holds sway over everything from energy development to public lands and wildlife conservation.

“While Montanans and Westerners highly value access to our public lands and wildlife, Montanans are also pleading for our land management agencies to be better partners – to work alongside our states and landowners,” Daines said.

Not everyone was impressed with Bernhardt’s nomination or the agency’s actions under Zinke, who has pushed to allow drilling in the Arctic, and off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Zinke is also conducting a review of National Monuments and has recommended at least one for a size reduction.

“This administration has already established a dangerous pattern of putting special interests above the interests of the American people and the health of our public lands,” said Drew McConville, a senior governmental affairs director for the Wilderness Society.

“Americans across the country are watching closely, and we are calling on members of Congress to hold newly-confirmed Deputy Secretary Bernhardt accountable for his actions going forward and insist that our public lands be protected for future generations.”