A shocking recording reveals just how deeply some oil industry execs believe their ties to Donald Trump’s administration go. Released by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, the hourlong chronicle of a meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) offers a horrific glimpse into the rotten collaboration between Big Energy and the most corrupt administrations in modern history—as one of their own, David Bernhardt climbed the ranks of Trump’s cabinet.
Dan Naatz, the association’s political director, told the conference room audience of about 100 executives that Bernhardt’s new role meant their priorities would be heard at the highest levels of Interior.
“We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues,” Naatz said, according to an hourlong recording of the June 2017 event in Laguna Niguel.
Bernhardt’s new role? The former oil industry attorney, lobbyist, and on-again, off-again Republican operative since the 1990s, had just been named Ryan Zinke’s #2 in the Department of the Interior. As Reveal’s Lance Williams put it, the oil execs were “giddy” over the prospect of access they hadn’t seen since Dick Cheney was Vice President.
Not even two years later, Bernhardt is set to be the number one at Interior; already nominated for the secretary position by Trump, his confirmation hearings are set for Thursday. Additionally, Bernhardt has been Acting Secretary since Zinke’s myriad ethics violations sent him packing in January.
Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years. Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation…….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 15, 2018
Like Andrew Wheeler taking over after Scott Pruitt was forced out at the Environmental Protection Agency, Bernhardt can be expected to be less flamboyant but nevertheless follow in Zinke’s policy footsteps, possibly with a more publicly judicious tone.
Of course, there is nothing judicious about this recording. The execs jubilantly celebrate the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, which they considered a vast affront to their industry.
As IPAA vice president Jeff Eshelman told the group, it had seemed as though the Obama administration and environmental groups had put together “their target list of everything that they wanted done to shut down the oil and gas industry.”
Things were already different under Trump, even just five months in.
“It’s really a new thing for us,” said Barry Russell, the association’s CEO, boasting of his meetings with Environmental Protection Agency chief at the time, Scott Pruitt, and the then-Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke. “For example, next week I’m invited to the White House to talk about tax code. Last week we were talking to Secretary Pruitt, and in about two weeks we have a meeting with Secretary Zinke. So we have unprecedented access to people that are in these positions who are trying to help us, which is great.”
The IPAA had a wish list of sorts, with five key regulations they wanted fixed in their favor. So far, the Trump administration has answered four of those requests, essentially working as the association’s own personal Make-A-Wish factory.
“The IPAA’s wish list was granted as asked, in the executive order, and in the actions taken by the Department of the Interior,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel for the Wilderness Society environmental group, who reviewed the document for Reveal. “It pains me to say it.”
From protecting birds to ensuring clean water near fracking sites, the oil industry has far less to worry with Bernhardt, once described as a “walking conflict of interest” at the helm of Interior.
Reveal goes quite in-depth when analyzing both Bernhardt’s resume and the recording itself; it’s a long read that’s very much worth your time.