Bernhardt is now the acting secretary at the Interior Department, the agency overseeing USA public lands.
Mr. Bernhardt, who is from Colorado, first served in Interior as a political appointee under President George W. Bush, becoming the agency's top lawyer. Zinke resigned in December amid ethics investigations. In his resignation letter, obtained by The Associated Press, Zinke said "vicious and politically motivated attacks" against him had "created an unfortunate distraction" in fulfilling the agency's mission.
He is expected to continue the Trump administration's priorities to advance oil and gas drilling and mining on or near public land.
As Zinke's deputy, Bernhardt was part of efforts to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, ease Obama-era protections on a bird called the greater sage grouse to boost drilling and mining across the West, and open federal lands to leases for coal mining. He represented Noble Energy Co., Rosemont Copper Co., Sempra Energy, and California's Westlands Water District, among others. For ethical reasons, he has already recused himself from any decision that may involve former clients from his lobbyist days.
"Rather than give Bernhardt a promotion, Congress should be working on exposing his numerous conflicts of interest and ethics violations, as a fossil fuel lobbyist and now as a government official", Ghio added.
Bernhardt was deputy secretary and has been running the department since Ryan Zinke stepped down at the end of the year.
His nomination requires Bernhardt to again be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
"Bernhardt got this nomination as a reward for months of work cramming America's natural heritage into a wood chipper", said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity advocacy group, one of many environmental organizations condemning Trump's intended nomination.
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