Ryan Zinke’s exit as interior secretary elevates a former lobbyist to the job, meaning the top two US environmental agencies will now be run by people previously paid by industry.
The deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, will take over at least temporarily when Zinke steps down at the end of the year. He also could be in the running to head the department permanently. And at the Environmental Protection Agency, the acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, who was a coal lobbyist, will be nominated to keep the post.
Bernhardt was a fossil fuels and water industry lobbyist at the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck before he joined the Trump administration. He was previously the chief lawyer at the interior department under the George W Bush administration .
In an ethics pledge, Bernhardt said he would wait until August 2019 to have certain interactions with his former firm and some major oil and gas companies he represented. But many of the industry-friendly changes he has ushered in as the No 2 official were on the wishlists of the companies who employed him.
“It’s not so much who has he helped. It’s who hasn’t he helped in industry so far,” said Bobby McEnaney, who works on western US energy issues for the Natural Resources Defense Council.