MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUSTS RAISES ETHICS ISSUES IN INTERIOR NOMINEE

MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUSTS RAISES ETHICS ISSUES IN INTERIOR NOMINEE

The controversial proposal by Cadiz Inc. to pump water out of the aquifer east of Twentynine Palms and ship it to Orange County could get a green light more easily if the U.S. Senate confirms Donald Trump’s nominee for deputy secretary of the Interior. David Bernhardt is a partner in a national law firm that has collected $2.75 million in legal fees—including 200,000 stock shares—from Cadiz. In addition, Cadiz’s chief executive officer, Scott Slater, is a lawyer in the same law firm as Bernhardt. Moreover, Bernhardt’s law firm has sued the Department of the Interior four times for its various clients.
Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington asked Bernhardt during his confirmation hearing yesterday (Thursday) if he would recuse himself from making any decisions about Cadiz while he was deputy secretary. Bernhardt did not specifically commit to doing so for more than one year, but he did say, “The minute I walk out of that firm, I have no interest in their interests.” (Bernhardt said he would resign as partner from his law firm if he is confirmed). If the Cadiz project is approved, his law firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck could earn another 200,000 stock shares.
Bernhardt did tell senators that while science will play a role in the department’s policy making, decisions will be based on “the policy perspective of the President” whenever possible. Mojave Desert Land Trust Executive Director Danielle Segura said her organization is “even more concerned about the growing threats to public land in the California desert.” She added that the fact that Bernhardt will be overseeing the same issues he lobbied for “is not only an ethical conflict, it is a conflict between him and the values of those who live in our desert communities.”

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