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PNS Daily Newscast - August 22, 2019 


The latest Trump child-detention policy sparks harsh criticism. Also on the Thursday rundown: New York sues the EPA over Hudson River PCBs.

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Ethics Probes Give Montanans Pause About Interior Sec. Bernhardt

David Bernhardt, right, replaced former U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., left, as head of the Interior Department last month. (U.S. Dept. of the Interior/Flickr)
David Bernhardt, right, replaced former U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., left, as head of the Interior Department last month. (U.S. Dept. of the Interior/Flickr)
May 2, 2019

HELENA, Mont. – Less than a month on the job and with investigations mounting, some Montanans are wondering if new Interior Secretary David Bernhardt will help or hinder Big Sky Country.

The former oil and gas lobbyist is facing ethics scandals on multiple fronts, including a call last week by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to investigate Bernhardt's daily record keeping.

The group says Bernhardt could be intentionally excluding meetings with extractive-industry representatives from his calendar.

Amara Reese-Hansell, field manager of the advocacy group Forward Montana, notes that the Interior Department's internal watchdog also launched an ethics probe a day after Bernhardt’s confirmation.

"He's already under investigation by the Interior Department's Inspector General over his conflicts of interest,” Reese-Hansell points out. “We know that someone with deep ties to the gas and oil fields really can't protect our public lands in a way that makes sense for Montana."

Last week, members of Forward Montana, Montana Conservation Voters, Big Sky 55+ and others protested outside of U.S. Sen. Steve Daines' Bozeman office because of the Montana Republican’s vote to confirm Bernhardt.

An Interior Department spokeswoman says Bernhardt is in "complete compliance" with his ethics agreement. The agency oversees roughly 500 million acres of public land nationwide.

Reese-Hansell says the Interior Department oversees drilling and mining expansion on public lands, putting it on the front lines of Trump's energy-dominance policy.

"That really makes Bernhardt a key figure in executing Trump's effort to cut red tape and promote energy production and exports,” she states. “So it's what kind of risk is involved when we appoint a former lobbyist to regulate and interact with all the industries that they were once representing?"

Bernhardt replaced former U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana as head of the Interior Department. Zinke resigned in December amid a series of ethics probes.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT