WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced on Twitter Monday that he will nominate acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to the job permanently, saying he has done "a fantastic job from the day he arrived."
Bernhardt has been serving temporarily since Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke departed the Trump Cabinet nearly two months ago under an ethics cloud.
The Interior Department is a sprawling agency with some 70,000 employees that manages the country’s natural resources on land and offshore, and oversees federal lands that collectively make up a fifth of the country.
National parks, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs all fall under the secretary's purview.
Environmental groups and their allies on Capitol Hill have been wary of Bernhardt, a former oil and agricultural industry lobbyist who also served in the George W. Bush administration. He had served as Zinke's deputy from July 2017 until he was elevated as the acting secretary in December.
Under Trump, the Interior Department with Bernhardt as a top official has looked to increase offshore oil drilling, expand mineral development on public lands and narrow the Engendered Species Act.
Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee that oversees much of Interior's activities, said he plans to conduct "vigorous oversight" of how the Interior Department oversees the industries Bernhardt used to champion.
"The president putting him in charge of regulating his former clients is a perfect example of everything wrong with this administration," Grijalva said.
In a 2017 ethics recusal letter sent to the Interior Department, Bernhardt said he would not participate "personally and substantially" from matters involving former employers or clients that come before the department for a certain period of time.
A Nov. 18 profile in The Washington Post mentioned the index card Bernhardt carries around with him listing the names of 22 former clients still covered by his ethics recusal.
The head of one of those companies, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, praised Trump's choice.