Meet The Man Likely To Replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

President Donald Trump will likely name David Bernhardt, the current number-two official at the Department of the Interior, as acting secretary until a full-time replacement can be found.

One source close to the Trump administration said Bernhardt would be a likely pick, and Politico reported in October that Zinke appeared “to be laying the groundwork to hand the reins to Bernhardt.”

Bloomberg reported Saturday that Bernhardt was Zinke’s “likely successor,” poised to take over as acting head of the Interior Department.

Trump announced Zinke’s resignation Saturday morning, and said he would announce his pick to replace the former Navy SEAL in the coming week. Trump also thanked Zinke for his service.

Zinke faced multiple investigations, mounting legal costs and pressure to resign from House Democrats. Zinke claimed allegations brought against him were politically-motivated, but they seemed too much to overcome.

Bernhardt is a convenient choice for the president having already proven he can further the “energy dominance” agenda. Bernhardt was confirmed by the Senate in July 2017. Politico described Bernhardt as “an experienced deputy steeped in the world of bureaucratic infighting waiting on deck if scandal drives him from office.”

Environmental activists also expect Trump to tap Bernhardt to replace Zinke. Environmentalists see Bernhardt as a potentially more effective operator having “taken meetings with appropriations staff and led policy on top-tier items like overhauling the Endangered Species Act and reorganizing the department,” Politico reported.

“Deputy Secretary Bernhardt has made it his mission to stifle climate science and silence the public so polluters can profit,” Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society, said in an emailed statement. (RELATED: Zinke Fires Back At Democrat Who Demanded He Resign)

U.S. President Trump takes part in the 17th annual September 11 observance at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville in Stoystown, Pennsylvania

U.S. President Donald Trump walks past Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke as he stands to address the 17th annual September 11 observance at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

“Unfortunately, even with Secretary Zinke out, the Interior Department remains disturbingly biased in favor of special interests over the health of American communities and the public lands that they love,” Williams said.

Bernhardt would be taking the reins from Zinke as the Department of the Interior goes through a major restructuring, the details of which will be announced in 2019. The department is also in the midst of rewriting Obama administration land management plans that drastically curtailed economic activities, such as drilling and grazing, on federal lands.

But probably the most contentious project at the Interior Department is the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s (ANWR) coastal plain to oil and gas exploration. It was a win for Alaskans who favor drilling but a blow to the decades-long stranglehold environmentalists had on the region.

Neither the White House nor the Interior Department responded to TheDCNF’s requests for comment.

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