Interior deputy’s long career as a lobbyist creates headaches for department’s ethics officials

The No. 2 official at the Department of the Interior canceled plans to speak at a water industry forum in Colorado after department ethics officials concluded his appearance at the event could raise conflicts-of-interest concerns.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former industry lobbyist described as a “walking conflict of interest,” notified the Colorado River District that he could not give his scheduled keynote speech on Friday at the district’s water forum in Grand Junction, Colorado.

After consulting with the Interior’s ethics office, Bernhardt “had to decline our invitation due to an abundance of concern for an appearance of conflict of interest,” Chris Treese external affairs manager for the Colorado River District, told The Daily Sentinel.

The ethics office determined the event’s focus on “interstate Colorado River issues” could be perceived as a conflict with Bernhardt’s previous employment with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a law and lobbying firm, the newspaper reported Thursday.

Bernhardt, who ran the natural resources department at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, has spent the last several years working on behalf of oil and gas companies, water districts, and large agribusiness to weaken environmental protections.

Bernhardt’s former law firm appears on his list of ethics recusals. The firm represents the Colorado River Energy Distributors Association and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, entities that both have a potential interest in actions taken by the Colorado River District.

The Colorado River District , officially known as the Colorado River Water Conservation District, is a public water planning and policy agency for the state of Colorado created in 1937.

The Interior Department had not responded to a request for comment from ThinkProgress at the time this article was published.


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