Texarkana, TX 35° View Live Radar Fri H 54° L 50° Sat H 64° L 38° Sun H 58° L 37° Weather Sponsored By:

Another industry lobbyist to Cabinet

Another industry lobbyist to Cabinet

February 9th, 2019 by Michael Hiltzik- Tribune News Service in Opinion Columns

It didn't require supernatural powers of clairvoyance to guess the name of President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Department of the Interior as successor to the cartoonishly unethical Ryan Zinke.

Trump's choice, David Bernhardt, has been working as Zinke's deputy virtually since the start of the Trump administration. He had served a prior stint at the agency under George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009.

But the key to the appointment plainly is his history as an industry lobbyist.

That's not just a shot in the dark. Bernhardt's career record as a lobbyist tracks closely with the career paths of numerous other Trump appointees to Cabinet posts and other important positions. A shocking number were lobbyists or top corporate executives in industries that had been under the jurisdiction of their current agencies.

Let's call the roll. Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services: Lobbyist for the drug giant Eli Lilly & Co. from 2007 to 2017, when he skated over to HHS. During his tenure as a top executive in Lilly's lobbying shop, the company's lobbying expenses totaled nearly $89 million, much of it spent during the period when the Affordable Care Act—on which Azar now sets policy—was being debated and drafted in Congress.

Patrick Shanahan, acting secretary of Defense: A veteran of Boeing corporate management, a major defense contractor, for more than 30 years. Among Shanahan's responsibilities during his career at Boeing were stints as general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems and of Boeing Rotocraft Systems, which made the Apache, Chinook and Osprey military aircraft.

Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (and nominee as administrator): Former lobbyist for energy companies, including Murray Energy, a coal company whose CEO, Bob Murray, drafted a set of proposed executive orders for Trump to use in rolling back environmental regulations.

Some of these appointments came as a result of the revolving door between the officeholders' appointments and the dispatch of their predecessors to industry sinecures. Former Interior Secretary Zinke has taken a job with an investment firm looking for opportunities in energy development, among other fields. Former HHS Secretary Tom Price took a job with a healthcare firm in his home state of Georgia. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been trying to set up a consulting firm for the coal industry.

The charitable view of stocking the upper reaches of the government with former industry executives is that they have the necessary expertise to ride herd on their former business colleagues. Unfortunately, there's scant evidence that this is what happens in real life, and an abundance of evidence that the opposite is true.

Bernhardt's activities at Interior are a case in point. As we reported in November, when Zinke was still secretary but his departure appeared to be imminent, Bernhardt's former lobbying clients and related interests found themselves in remarkably good odor at Interior once he was confirmed as deputy.

The Western Values Project, a progressive-funded Montana organization, alleged in a lawsuit filed last year that many of Bernhardt's former clients "began receiving sudden and dramatic windfalls only months since his swearing in."

One is Cadiz Inc., the developer of a putative water storage project in the Mojave Desert that paid the Brownstein firm $2.75 million in lobbying fees and 200,000 shares of stock while Bernhardt was at the firm; Scott Slater, a Brownstein attorney, currently serves as the Cadiz CEO. Within months of Bernhardt's confirmation, Interior withdrew legal rulings adverse to Cadiz, giving the water project a new lease on life despite years of findings that it's essentially useless and environmentally damaging. Cadiz is on Bernhardt's recusal list.

The Independent Petroleum Assn. of America, another outfit on Bernhardt's list, benefited when Interior took steps to revise government agreements protecting the sage grouse—and thanked Bernhardt personally for the action. Last August, Bernhardt produced an op-ed for the Washington Post that amounted to a broadside against the Endangered Species Act, a law over which he had sued Interior on behalf of California's giant Westlands Water District, which would love to see a rollback of the law.

Upon being nominated as secretary, Bernhardt paid the obligatory obeisance to Trump, tweeting: "It's a humbling privilege to be nominated to lead a Department whose mission I love, to accomplish the balanced, common sense vision of our President."

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Texarkana Gazette Comments Policy

The Texarkana Gazette web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Gazette web sites and any content on the Gazette web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Gazette, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Gazette web sites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Texarkana Gazette
15 Pine Street
Texarkana, TX 75501
Phone: 903-794-3311
Email: webeditor@texarkanagazette.com