After One Year In Office, Bernhardt’s Former Clients Have Received Favorable Interior Decisions, Lucrative Windfalls


WASHINGTON, D.C. –Today, on behalf of the Western Values Project, Democracy Forward filed suit against the Trump administration for failing to release documents detailing whether Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has complied with ethics requirements, including his pledge to recuse himself from working on matters involving his former clients, several of whom have benefitted from Department of Interior (DOI) decisions after Bernhardt took office. The case was filed after Interior failed to fulfill ten Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by Western Values Project for Bernhardt’s official communications and other work.

“From oil and gas corporations and water projects to a multinational conglomerate with Russian ties, Bernhardt’s past lobbyist exploits reach far and wide,” said Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger. “Now the same special interests who have business before Interior are seeing their projects move forward, while public records requests go unanswered. As suspicious as it seems from the outside, we can only imagine why Interior is withholding these public documents from the light of day.”

Prior to assuming the role of Deputy Secretary, Bernhardt served as chair of the natural resources group at a lobbying firm where he worked on behalf of mining and fossil fuel corporations. Since his swearing-in a year ago, the Department of the Interior has acted in ways that raise questions about Bernhardt’s compliance with his recusal. For example:

  • Three months after Bernhardt’s confirmation, Eni Petroleum — a company covered by Bernhardt’s recusal — received a permit to drill in Alaska’s arctic waters.  Eni Petroleum is the first company allowed to drill in Alaska since 2015;

  • During Bernhardt’s tenure, Cadiz Inc. benefited from a DOI decision that facilitates the development of a sensitive groundwater project under California’s Mojave Desert–permission that Bernhardt’s lobbying firm had sought for years while he was in private practice. Five weeks after Bernhardt’s confirmation, DOI removed legal guidelines protecting similar aquifers from development, laying the groundwork for Cadiz’s project to move forward; and

  • Bernhardt was charged with overseeing the greater sage-grouse management plans overhaul shortly after his controversial confirmation. After rolling back the cooperative plans across the West, the Independent Petroleum Association of America — another entity appearing on Bernhardt’s list of recusals — joined in a thank you letter addressed to Bernhardt for his efforts that benefited the oil and gas industry.

“We’ve seen this pattern at agency after agency in the Trump Administration: install lobbyists as senior officials and then watch their former clients and corporate allies reap the benefits,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy.

Western Values Project has submitted ten Freedom of Information Act requests to Interior relating to David Bernhardt, and received no responsive documents from the government.


Western Values Project, based in Whitefish, Montana, defends America’s public lands through research and public education in order to hold policymakers and elected leaders accountable for jeopardizing the West’s outdoor heritage.

Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.

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