WASHINGTON (AP/KTUU) - The Senate has confirmed acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to lead the department on a permanent basis, despite complaints by Democrats that the former oil and gas lobbyist used his federal position to benefit former industry clients.
The Senate voted 56-41 to approve Bernhardt's nomination to oversee the country's public lands and resources. He succeeds Ryan Zinke, who resigned in January amid a series of ethics investigations.
Bernhardt represented energy and agricultural industries until President Donald Trump picked him in April 2017 to be deputy secretary.
Bernhardt says he's complied with all ethics laws and rules. But Democrats and environmental groups accuse him of using his federal post to shape regulations and legislation in favor of oil and gas interests and other former clients.
In a statement issued immediately after, Alaska's senior Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she supports Bernhardt and thinks he "has what it takes to lead."
Murkowski did not comment on Bernhardt's ties to lobbying for U.S. energy companies. In her remarks issued in a news release Thursday, Murkowski said:
“I congratulate Mr. Bernhardt on his confirmation to be Secretary of the Interior. He has what it takes to lead this Department – coming from the west, he understands our public lands, has more experience at the Department than all but one of his predecessors, and has extensive knowledge of the issues that will come before him."
“David Bernhardt has proven to be a strong partner not only for Alaska, but states all across the country. I’m pleased to continue working with him and his team on a wide range of energy, lands, and water-related issues,” Murkowski said in the statement.
Alaska's junior Senator Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, echoed Murkowski's statements of support, saying specifically that Bernhardt is a good fit from the state's perspective.
"The Secretary of Interior is extremely knowledgeable about Alaska," Sullivan said. "As a matter of fact when I was DNR Commissioner, he was one of the attorneys we hired to help us on some lands issues so he’s very knowledgeable."